Gibbons on Jays’ Saunders: ‘Kind of a miracle’

Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders, left, chats with head trainer George Poulis. (Neil Davidson/CP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays lost one of their top pitchers when Marcus Stroman tore his ACL Tuesday, but on a more positive note, some of their other injured players are making progress.

Michael Saunders has started taking batting practice and doing agility drills in the hopes of returning for Toronto’s April 13 home opener, if not the April 6 season opener.

“He’s moving quicker than I thought he was going to,” manager John Gibbons said. “It’s kind of a miracle.”

Saunders had his meniscus removed after injuring his knee on a sprinkler head early in Spring Training. He had initially been expected to miss the first half of the season, but removing the meniscus accelerated that timeline to five-to-six weeks.

Kevin Pillar appears to be playing his way onto the Blue Jays regardless of how quickly Saunders heals. The Blue Jays like his glove, his speed and his track record against minor-league pitching.

“It’s time he played in the big leagues,” Gibbons said Wednesday. “He can do so many different things.”

Here are some more notes from Blue Jays camp:

  • Dioner Navarro (knee) and Dayan Viciedo (foot) are making progress after being sidelined earlier in the week.
  • The Blue Jays have been easing Maicer Izturis in after last year’s knee injury, but the switch-hitter could see increased action. “We’ll start pushing him more here in the next few days,” Gibbons said.
  • Lost in the aftermath of Stroman’s injury was Russell Martin’s most recent opportunity to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball. A few pitches got away Tuesday, but Dickey said Martin’s on track to handle the pitch as long as he gets more repetitions. “He’s done a fantastic job to date,” Dickey said.
  • A few people with rival teams have said in recent days that they consider the AL East open. There’s no juggernaut team, but each club has a shot.
  • Drew Hutchison pitched very efficiently against the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday, when he needed just 39 pitches to complete four innings. With Stroman sidelined, the Blue Jays need that kind of success from Hutchison, who aims to pitch 200-plus innings in 2015. “I’d be a little disappointed if I didn’t get there,” he said. “I definitely feel like I have the ability to, so if you just go out there and go deep into games every time you get the ball, it’ll take care of itself.”

  • Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris have the chance to bolster their chances of starting when they pitch Friday and Saturday, respectively. Marco Estrada’s rough outing Thursday can’t have helped his shot at winning a rotation job, though one rough spring appearance shouldn’t overshadow his track record of retiring big league hitters.
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