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Reyes’s return well-timed for Blue Jays, Gibbons says

The Toronto Blue Jays' infielder Jose Reyes before the team's season opener against the Cleveland Indians at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont. Tuesday, April 2, 2013. Reyes will begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Jose Reyes impending return to the Toronto Blue Jays' lineup is coming at a nearly perfect time.

Manager John Gibbons said on Friday that as the all-star shortstop was rehabbing with Toronto's triple-A team in Buffalo, N.Y., the Blue Jays were putting themselves in a position to welcome him back.

"The talk has been since he went down, amongst us, amongst (the media) that if we can get back to .500 by the time he gets back then that's pretty good," said Gibbons. "We're close to doing that. I mean, we're not there yet, but that could happen and then he just adds to it."

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Toronto ended up moving to .500 later in the evening after a 7-6 victory over Baltimore. The result was the Blue Jays' ninth straight win and improved the team's record to 36-36.

Reyes was hitting .395 with a home run, five runs batted in, five runs and five stolen bases in 10 games when he sprained his left ankle on April 12.

"He's one of the premier players in the game. Just all the different things he can do," said Gibbons. "I know everyone will be glad to get him back, regardless."

On Wednesday Gibbons suggested that Reyes may be back as soon as Monday when Toronto plays the Rays in Tampa Bay. He didn't sound as certain on Friday.

"It's not too far off. We'll see how he does this weekend, we'll kind of see where we're at."

Added Gibbons: "He's going to play nine innings tonight (Friday), nine tomorrow and then Sunday's a day game, so that'd be his first day game after a night game.

"(Friday) will be a good test — nine innings — and definitely after (Saturday)."

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Gibbons told media on Friday that Reyes would play all three minor league games in the field.

"We got to make sure he's good and ready," said the manager.

Reyes will reclaim the leadoff spot in Toronto's batting order when he returns.

"He'll definitely be at the top, we're not sure what we're going to do after that yet," said Gibbons.

Gibbons wasn't concerned about any kind of expectations affecting Reyes' performance.

"I don't think he feels any pressure. I don't think he's that kind of player," said Gibbons. "He just goes out there and has fun. Excels, you know. One guy can't do it all. One guy can make a big difference, but one guy alone can't.

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"But he can make a nice difference."

Although Toronto's been rolling in its last 14 games, winning 12, Gibbons was upbeat about Reyes' return.

"He's a key part of this team. When he went down he was doing it all," said Gibbons. "But I tip my hat to the guys that've filled in, (Munenori) Kawasaki in particular, done a great job. He really has. Coming out of nowhere, done a lot of good things for us."

Kawasaki was signed by the Blue Jays to a minor-league contract on March 14. He was then called up to Toronto on April 13 to sub in for the injured Reyes. He's hit .219, with 14 RBIs, 18 runs and seven stolen bases in 56 games.

Kawasaki made a strong case for staying with Toronto later Friday when he hit his first major-league home run that tied the game at six, prompting fans to chant his name in Kawasaki's next at-bat.

"He's added a lot off the field, in the clubhouse. The teammates love him, the fans love him. You can't help it," said Gibbons of Kawasaki. "And he's contributed big time on the field. Some key hits here or there, good fundamental baseball, made some nice defensive plays, stolen some bases.

"He's a heads-up player, does everything right. Doesn't mean he's going to get the job done every time, but he does everything right. He's definitely done a tremendous job for us."

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