Inglett might miss out, barring injury
Utilityman likely headed to Triple-A, but spot could open up
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays might want to think twice before possibly sending Joe Inglett back down to the Minor Leagues to open this season. Unusual circumstances helped Inglett find his way back to Toronto shortly after a handful of demotions a year ago.
On more than one occasion, the Blue Jays optioned Inglett and then had one of their other players fall prey to injury, pulling the utilityman back to the big league roster. That chain of events led to former manager John Gibbons handing Inglett the nickname "Voodoo Joe."
This spring, Inglett is fighting for a spot on Toronto's bench, but it appears more likely that he'll be heading to Triple-A Las Vegas to begin the year -- barring injury, of course. This week, Jays third baseman Scott Rolen and outfielder Travis Snider were each shelved with health issues.
Considering Inglett's history and situation, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston chuckled at the thought that the utility man might somehow be behind the minor injuries.
"He's working early," Gaston said with a laugh.
All kidding aside, the Blue Jays have four players currently in the running for three vacancies on the bench. As things currently stack up, Inglett appears to be the odd man out, with the jobs more likely to fall to shortstop John McDonald, infielder Kevin Millar and utilityman Jose Bautista.
Playing against Inglett is the fact that he still has a player option, meaning Toronto can sent him to the Minors without having to expose him to waivers first. Gaston said he has already discussed the matter with Inglett, just to let him know that he may have to wait a bit longer to join the Jays.
"Joe realized that we might be a little crowded," Gaston said. "But, he and I talked about that a long time ago. Who knows what's going to happen before Opening Day? But he's one of the guys who has an option left. Sometimes that's good, but sometimes that's bad for you."
Inglett said he was grateful for Gaston's honest approach, even if the conversation left him a bit troubled.
"Of course it's frustrating," Inglett said. "But I do appreciate him shooting me straight. That's all I ask. I'm just going to keep on doing what I do, being me. Hopefully, that's going to be enough to break with the team. If it's not, then I'll just keep on working hard and wait for that callup."
Inglett, 30, didn't usually have to wait too long for a promotion last season.
After a brief stint with the Jays in the season's opening month, Inglett was sent packing on April 26. He was then recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on May 8 after infielders David Eckstein and John McDonald were injured in the same game.
Over the following 48 hours, Inglett was optioned back to Triple-A and recalled again, this time due to center fielder Vernon Wells' fracturing his left wrist on a diving play in a game against Cleveland. On June 7, Toronto returned Inglett to the Minors, and again he was recalled less than 24 hours later when outfielder Shannon Stewart suffered an ankle injury.
Adding to the list of walking wounded that surrounded Inglett's activity on the transaction wire, the Blue Jays lost second baseman Aaron Hill for the season after he suffered a serious concussion in late May. With Hill sidelined, Inglett received a majority of his playing time at second, often doubling as the leadoff hitter for Toronto.
In 109 games with the Jays, the left-handed-hitting Inglett batted .297 with three home runs, 15 doubles, seven triples and 39 RBIs. He manned seven different positions, including a brief stint as the designated hitter. After spending the bulk of the past eight seasons in the Indians' farm system, Inglett made the most of his time in Toronto.
"He did a great job for us -- an absolutely great job for us," Gaston said. "He was very important. He's one of those guys you can hit in the second spot or lead him off. He can play all the outfield positions and third base, and we're playing him at short a couple times this spring.
"We certainly appreciated what he did last year, and we're going to give him every opportunity to make this club. Who knows what's going to happen between here and there? He's aware. He knows what's going on."
Inglett, who was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays in September 2007, can at least take some comfort in knowing that he's already shown Toronto what he can do on the big league stage. That could prove beneficial, considering Inglett was hitting just .214 in 11 games this spring, entering Thursday.
"It is nice in the back of your mind to know that they have seen that I can compete and do well in the big leagues and be a contributor to the team," Inglett said. "But this Spring Training is not unlike any other. You still have to go out and do your business and take care of things and still show that you can play hard and compete."
Gaston has noted on multiple occasions that he likes having the right-handed bats of Bautista and Millar available on the bench to spell some of his lefty hitters (first baseman Lyle Overbay, left fielder Snider and DH Adam Lind) against tough left-handed pitching. As for McDonald, both Gaston and general manager J.P. Ricciardi have said he has a spot on the team.
Then again, Gaston steered clear of saying McDonald was completely "safe" on Thursday.
"You're safe once you get on that plane headed to Toronto," Gaston said. "That's when you're safe. You never know what might happen before then."
Inglett wants to be with the Jays when camp breaks, and he's hoping his performance last season can help convince Toronto to keep him on board.
"That was the main thought, of course," Inglett said. "But, once again, I understand that it's a numbers game and they have their ideas of what they want, and, hopefully, I fit into it."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.