Marred by injuries for a good chunk of the season, Blue Jays outfielder George Springer appears to be healthy again as the club contends for a postseason position this year. The AL Wild Card contest is starting to come down to the wire, as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are currently tied within the Wild Card standings while the Blue Jays sit 2.0 games back, followed closely by the Seattle Mariners who sit 3.0 games back.
After spending the middle portion of August on the IL with a knee injury, Springer returned on August 30th and has been playing as the club’s designated hitter, unable to play center field given his mobility issues with the injured knee. Since his return from the IL, the righty-batter has been struggling at the plate, seeing his average drop over 30 points and while batting 13 for 81 (.160/.244/.284) in the month of September. Over his last 15 games, Springer has mustered only nine hits through 61 at-bats while striking out 14 times with only two home runs and 4 RBI.
With the Blue Jays in a playoff race and Springer struggling at the plate, it was surprising to see him still at the top of the order when other players were performing better like Marcus Semien or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Especially with him in the DH role, one of the Blue Jays outfielders is now on the bench and the club could not put hard-hitting catcher Alejandro Kirk in the lineup when Danny Jansen or Reese McGuire were catching that game.
Blue Jays outfielder George Springer took center field last night, the first time since coming off the injured list back in late August.
That all changed last night when Springer suited up in center field for the first time since being activated off the IL, opening up the DH spot to someone else on the roster while still keeping the Connecticut product still in the lineup. Any doubts of whether the knee would hinder him defensively were put to rest when he made a fantastic play near the wall and would also put some runs on the board as well, sending a no-doubter over the left-field wall to drive in two runs and give the Blue Jays some much-needed insurance late in the game.
Springer out of the designated hitter spot makes a huge difference, as manager Charlie Montoyo can now utilize different players in the role to either give guys rest days without taking their bat out of the lineup or play lefty/righty matchups by switching around Corey Dickerson and Randal Grichuk between the bench, outfield, or DH. The Blue Jays can also insert Kirk back into the role to get his bat back in the lineup on a consistent basis although he is struggling to put the ball in play as of late.
Having Springer in the outfield also makes a difference given the recent hand injury to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has yet to play since getting stepped on by Grichuk back on September 23. While he avoided serious injury, the Blue Jays could utilize him in the DH spot before he returns to the outfield mostly because the hand that got stepped on is his throwing hand, which needed two stitches and could impact his defensive ability. Gurriel is playing some of the best baseball of his career (.358/.424/.717 with five home runs through his last 15 games) right now and the Jays need his bat back in the lineup as soon as possible.
Although Springer is struggling as of late, whether it be because of the knee injury or not, having him out of the DH spot is a step in the right direction that opens up a plethora of possibilities on how to best attack the opposing pitching staff that game.
Montoyo can play the matchups, insert a pinch hitter or runner in, or rotate the players around but keep them in the lineup with Springer no longer being hogtied to the DH spot. Not only that, Springer is a plus defender when healthy, evident by his highlight-reel grab last night, and having his glove patrolling center field makes the club better on the defensive aspect as well.
Hopefully the home run last night is a sign of changing times, as the Blue Jays need Springer to start producing again, especially if Montoyo keeps putting him in the leadoff spot every game.