Wilner: Bonifacio not worth giving up on

Toronto Blue Jays' Emilio Bonifacio, right, celebrates with Colby Rasmus after both scored on a single by Munenori Kawasaki in the ninth inning. (AP/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND — While J.P. Arencibia and, more recently, Brett Lawrie have been the main targets of Blue Jays fans’ wrath, it’s been more resignation than hate with which many have dealt with Emilio Bonifacio.

The switch-hitting speed demon utility man came over pretty anonymously in the big deal with the Miami Marlins that also netted the Blue Jays Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. When the deal was made, we heard that we would quickly fall in love with Bonifacio for his energy, his blazing speed, his defensive versatility and his ability to get on base.

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That’s what we were told. What we have seen is a guy who not only hasn’t hit, but who has barely been able to get on, and someone whose defensive versatility has been blunted by a few big errors at second base.

Bonifacio was a surprise starter in left field on Wednesday night — his first start in the outfield since May 14 — as John Gibbons wanted to get as many left-handed hitters in as possible against Indians starter Justin Masterson. The righty went into the start having allowed an OPS against left-handed hitters that was 230 points higher than against righties.

But Bonifacio came into the game hitting just .206/.239/.307. That .548 OPS is third-worst among the 219 major leaguers who have at least 225 plate appearances this season. The numbers have been awful, and that’s all a lot of Blue Jays fans have seen of Bonifacio, so there’s a widespread belief that he’s just terrible.

The truth is, he has been terrible so far for the Blue Jays, but there were a couple of bright spots amid the terribilitude in Wednesday night’s win over the Indians.

Bonifacio came up with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh, the Blue Jays down 1-0 and already 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. Masterson was on the ropes, having walked back-to-back hitters, and Bonifacio waited him out, got ahead in the count and lined a two-run single to give the Blue Jays the lead.

He worked a walk the next time up — with two on and two out in the ninth inning of what was then a 2-2 tie — passing the baton to Munenori Kawasaki, who delivered the game-winning single to centre. On that Kawasaki hit we saw Bonifacio’s blazing speed, as he was able to score all the way from first thanks to a little bobble by Indians centre fielder Michael Bourn.

I’m not saying that fans should be happy with Bonifacio’s production over the first 90 games of his Blue Jays career — you shouldn’t, he’s been a huge disappointment so far. What I’m saying is that people shouldn’t be trying to run him out of town after a bad half-season.

Even though we didn’t see it here in Toronto, Bonifacio hit .280 with a .345 on-base percentage over the three years before he became a Blue Jay, stealing 82 bases in 96 tries. Those are good numbers, and that’s what he’s shown he can be capable of doing.

One would think that lessons would have been learned about overreacting to poor performances by players like Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Cecil — all of whom have been the target of Jays fans’ wrath at several points over the last few seasons. There’s a lot more in Bonifacio than what we’ve seen — we saw some of it Wednesday night in Cleveland — and that’s why he’s still here.

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