Blue Jays: Kawasaki Returns to Replace Injured Melky Cabrera: Griffin
The life of a major leaguer, the life of a legend, the life of the party, that's Blue Jays' infielder Munenori Kawasaki. Trying to meet any of those expectations is tough enough, but being all those things to an entire country can be an amazing roller-coaster ride.
One day you're smiling and dancing and enjoying life as a major-leaguer, a cult hero at the peak of your personal and professional popularity. The next day you're gone to the minors, banished only because of a negotiated circumstance, one of the few players having a remaining minor-league option. Then, as you're trying to adjust to your new/old life in AAA-Buffalo, one wonky hamstring and one phone call later, you're back in the majors. On Friday we get to ask Kawasaki what that's like. The answer will no doubt be memorable
After two days in the minors, it did not take long for the very popular Mune Kawasaki to make his return to the Jays. Following Thursday night's game in which Melky Cabrera had run the bases and played left field, all the while in obvious pain, the Jays announced that the tightly muscled outfielder was being placed on the 15-day disabled list with left knee tendinitis. Cabrera had missed 50 games with the Giants at the end of the 2012 season while serving a MLB drug suspension for performance-enhancers.
Kawasaki was recalled on Thursday night from Triple-A Buffalo, where he had just been sent following Tuesday night's game. He had been optioned to make room for shortstop Jose Reyes, recalled from his injury rehab option to Buffalo. Normally Kawasaki would have had to remain in the minor-leagues for at least 10 days before being recalled, but if there is an injury, a player can be recalled sooner. Kawasaki is back.
Kawasaki, with the Mariners in 2012, had quickly become a Rogers Centre fan favourite with his name chanted from the rafters whenever he did anything special. Kawasaki had, in fact, been the hero in a couple of key wins during the Jays' streak to mediocrity.
In a game against Baltimore on May 26, he doubled home the winning run at the Rogers Centre and then paused for an epic on-field interview with Sportsnet's Arash Madani. On June 21, also at home, the diminutive, demonstrative shortstop slammed his first career home run in the seventh to tie another game vs. the O's and reliever Tommy Hunter.
Kawasaki, 32, in 60 games for the Jays, is batting .225 with one home run, 17 RBIs, seven stolen bases and a .662 OPS. Kawasaki was so popular with his teamates that after manager John Gibbons had him in his office to tell him the bad news, he escorted the just-demoted Japanese infielder back into the clubhouse, put his arm around him and let the players know what had happened, first hand. It was an emotional moment. Now he's back.
Cabrera, 28, had played every game of the season thus far, but was having difficulty running on Thursday, both on the bases and playing left field at Fenway Park. Signed to a two-year, $16 million contract by the Jays as a free-agent in the off-season, Cabrera was batting .278 with 86 hits, three homers and 29 RBIs.
There are several interesting possibilities for Gibbons and the Jays in the absence of Cabrera. Switch-hitting Emilio Bonifacio could continue to play second base, with Maicer Izturis at third and Rajai Davis making the lion's share of starts in left field.
Or, in a more imaginative vein, Bonifacio could play second base against lefthanders and left field against righthanders, with Davis in the lineup in left field vs. lefthanded starters and Kawasaki taking over at second base vs. righthanders. Otherwise, the Jays would have two strictly utility infielders in Mark DeRosa and Kawasaki and no fourth outfielder, with Bonifacio being the only man with experience out there.
No matter what they decide, the clubhouse will benefit from Kawasaki's presence.