The next issue might come out of left field
As the Jays get back to health, one position stands out as a question mark
The Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup largely returned to its preferred shape this past weekend, with third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki both back from injury.
That meant more dugout time for some of the role players, such as Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, who helped this team keep its head above water during a prolonged injury crisis.
But for Chris Coghlan, another of the Jays’ utility players, the returns meant nothing more than a move to the outfield.
Coghlan made his third start of the season in left field on Sunday, giving Ezequiel Carrera a day off as Steve Pearce continues to rehab a calf strain.
While it’s a new role for Coghlan with the Jays — he had his first start at the position on Tuesday against Milwaukee — it’s not new to the 31year-old, who has made 484 of his 719 big-league appearances in left field.
“That stuff happens,” Coghlan said. “I’ve been the injured guy that somebody comes in for. I think the game is going to versatility . . . it’s a huge asset when you can have somebody that can play multiple positions. That’s why I’ve always been so willing to do it.”
Of course, playing in one position and honing his craft would be much easier than jumping around the diamond.
“You have the same amount of time as everyone else but you’ve got to do five positions, six positions. You have to pick and choose, on the days when you play and don’t play, how much work you do, what to do. So that’s why it’s a lot more challenging and difficult.”
One thing that doesn’t change is the mental approach.
“You’ve just got to be fearless and know that you’re prepared, you did everything you could,” he said. “I think the common response is timidity, because you’re like, ‘Man, I don’t play here very often.’ It’s a mindset to be able to be a utility player that plays everywhere.”
It is still unclear how much time Coghlan will spend in the outfield this season. Jays manager John Gibbons said Sunday that he wasn’t sure where Pearce was at in terms of recovery.
If Pearce’s timeline is anything like that of Donaldson, who just returned from calf problems, it could be another month before he is able to return. Rookie Anthony Alford, another outfield option, is also facing a lengthy stint on the disabled list after breaking a bone in his left wrist last week.
With Tulowitzki and Donaldson back and left-handed starters J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano nearing returns, the focus could turn to left field, which was one of the team’s concerns in the off-season.
Carrera, who wasn’t expected to be more than a platoon player, has made 23 starts in left, hitting .269 overall. Pearce, who has made 22 starts there, was hitting just .205 when he went on the DL. Coghlan, three years removed from his best season, is hitting .219 in his limited appearances with the club this season.
Left field is the one position that will likely remain a talking point as the July trade deadline inches closer.
For now, Gibbons likes Coghlan in his new role, calling him a “natural outfielder.”
“You can put him in some different spots,” the manager said. “His strength isn’t the infield but you can put him there if you need him to. He’s definitely a better second baseman than third baseman but he can play a lot of places.”
Chris Coghlan is a natural outfielder, a role he should see more of as the Jays juggle players in left.