BALTIMORE -- The wave of reinforcements will continue for the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon when Brandon Morrow takes the mound for the first time in more than two months.
Morrow is set to face the Orioles in his first appearance since straining his left oblique muscle on June 11 in Toronto. It's another welcome addition for the Blue Jays, who get back their best pitcher in the same series their top hitter, Jose Bautista, also returned from a prolonged absence.
"It has been a lot longer than I would have hoped, but it was one of those injuries that you had to play it by ear until you're feeling good and strong," said Morrow, who is 7-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 13 starts this season. "I'm feeling good and strong now, got all my work in during my rehab assignment and I'm ready to go."
When Morrow went down in early June it seemed to set off a ripple effect of injuries throughout Toronto's roster. Within the span of four days, fellow starters Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek went down with season-ending injuries while relievers Luis Perez and Jason Frasor soon joined that list as well.
Even when the injuries stopped affecting the pitching staff they began to impact the everyday lineup. Regulars Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Bautista all went down for a long period of time. Colby Rasmus, Edwin Encarnacion and David Cooper have been forced to deal with nagging ailments.
It's a situation that became surreal over time and something Morrow had never seen before in his career.
"It was pretty tough not being around, that's what wears on you the most, watching the team struggling and more guys going down," said Morrow, who still ranks second in the American League with three shutouts.
"It was tough being out. I probably didn't watch as much as most people would think. It's hard to sit and watch the games when you're not there and do all of that but I was pulling for the guys."
Morrow made five rehab appearances prior to re-joining the Blue Jays on Friday night in Baltimore. He threw a combined 20 1/3 innings while allowing five earned runs on 18 hits while striking out 12 for Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire.
The 28-year-old will be on approximately an 85-to-95 pitch count on Saturday as he gets eased back into the rotation. The Blue Jays will have long reliever Chad Jenkins ready to go after his outing.
The 85-pitch mark is close to the number he threw during his last start for New Hampshire, and the hard-throwing right-hander said he didn't have any difficulty maintaining his stuff as the innings wore on.
"I felt good from my first [start], Morrow said of his rehab. "I really didn't miss a beat, I think, mechanically or with my arm. That's the good thing with it not being an arm injury. I was able to at least keep the feel of the baseball, even if I was throwing gingerly.
"Getting the feel back didn't really take long at all. It was just getting to that point where I felt like I could really push myself."
Bautista activated from disabled list
BALTIMORE -- Jose Bautista made his long-awaited return to the Blue Jays lineup on Friday night after missing more than a month with an injured left wrist.
Bautista had been out since July 16 after suffering the injury during a swing in New York against the Yankees. His presence will provide a much-needed boost for a club that has managed to score just 2.8 runs per game since July 29, which ranks last in the Major Leagues.
"I missed it every single day, and it makes you appreciate what you have," Bautista said of his prolonged absence. "All I can do is [try] to help the team win games.
"I don't look at myself as 'that guy' who's going to make the team better or worse. We have a capable group and I just hope I can bring something to the table to contribute."
Bautista began a brief rehab assignment earlier this week in Florida. He appeared in one game with Class-A Dunedin and another simulated game at the club's Minor League complex before moving up to Double-A New Hampshire on Thursday night.
During his lone appearance with the Fisher Cats, Bautista made a strong statement by hitting a pair of home runs, including a grand slam, en route to five RBIs on the eve of his return to the big leagues.
Right-hander Chad Beck was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Bautista on the 25-man roster.
Bautista won't read too much into the immediate results because it came at a lower level of play, but it still has the potential to provide immediate proof that the wrist has improved to the point of being able to handle a return.
"Anytime you do something good at the plate and you help score some runs, you feel great," Bautista said. "I do realize that it's a different level of baseball, but it's not to say I was facing Little Leaguers, either. For the most part, I went down there just to see some pitches before I showed up here and to try to test out my wrist."
Bautista said he expects to be able to play on an everyday basis now that he is back, but manager John Farrell took a slightly more cautious approach. He said the team's decision on how often Bautista is in the lineup will be dictated by how the right fielder feels and responds to the increased activity.
It's possible Bautista will receive an occasional start at designated hitter. But because of the nature of the injury, that wouldn't provide much of a day off. That's because the affected wrist area is put under a lot more stress in the batter's box than it is in the field.
"I think it's prudent on our part, as the work ramps up, the everyday play ramps up, we've got to be a little bit conscious of that, where a down day might be more beneficial for himself rather than grinding it out every day," Farrell said.
"We've got to monitor the amount of early work he does in the cage, how much BP -- he might cut short his BP on days just so not to overdo it in terms of the number of swings on a given day. That's all part of a fluid situation, monitoring and getting his feedback."
Bautista entered play on Friday hitting .244 with 27 home runs and 65 RBIs in 90 games. Despite missing all of those games, Bautista still ranks in the top 10 in home runs for the American League and trails Chicago's Adam Dunn by nine for the league lead.
Hechavarria, Gose sent down to Triple-A
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays optioned Adeiny Hechavarria and Anthony Gose to Triple-A Las Vegas following Friday night's 6-4 loss to the Orioles.
The moves were made to make room on the 25-man roster for the return of right-hander Brandon Morrow from the 60-day disabled list and shortstop Yunel Escobar from paternity leave.
Hechavarria and Gose were both pressed into Major League action earlier than expected this season because of injuries. They originally weren't expected to arrive until rosters expand at the beginning of September, and both are still likely to return at that time.
Gose struggled during his first stint in the big leagues, hitting just .183 with two RBIs while stealing 10 bases in 28 games. The 22-year-old, who is ranked the club's second-best prospect by MLB.com, still has a bright future with the organization, but needs some more time to mature as a hitter.
Hechavarria also struggled with the bat during his relatively brief stint. He hit just .179, but displayed impressive range in the field, which should come as no surprise since he is considered the top defensive infielder in the Minor Leagues.
The departure of Hechavarria likely means that veteran Omar Vizquel and utilityman Mike McCoy will split duties at third base until Brett Lawrie returns from the 15-day disabled list or Hechavarria is brought back in September.
Laffey shifted to bullpen as Morrow returns
BALTIMORE -- Left-hander Aaron Laffey lost his spot in the Blue Jays rotation on Friday, but it likely won't be for a long period of time.
Laffey was officially moved to the bullpen to make room for right-hander Brandon Morrow, who will be activated from the 60-day disabled list prior to Saturday's game against the Orioles.
The transition likely won't be a long one, as the Blue Jays fully expect to move to a six-man starting rotation once the month of September rolls around.
"We'll continue to re-evaluate things for the next time through the rotation, if his insertion back into the rotation is needed," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "At the same time, we're probably leaning towards a six-man rotation, so his presence in the bullpen is for a defined period of time and we look to go to that six-man rotation in September."
Laffey has made 11 starts for the Blue Jays this season, posting a 3-5 record and 4.78 ERA in 64 innings. He has thrown six quality starts while surrendering three runs or less in each of his past two outings.
The area where Laffey has struggled most this season is keeping the ball in the park. He has surrendered 13 homers, which has proven to be his undoing on more than one occasion.