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Infielder Brett Lawrie #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays sets for play against the Detroit Tigers February 26, 2011 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Infielder Brett Lawrie #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays sets for play against the Detroit Tigers February 26, 2011 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Jeff Blair

Brett Lawrie - the name the Jays dare not speak Add to ...

Well, now the Toronto Blue Jays have gone and done it. Mentioned the kid’s name again, on Thursday night. Talked about how they’d like to see Brett Lawrie in the majors in August, before the rosters expand.

Then Jose Bautista gets hurt. Twists his right ankle on a slide at third on an inning-ending double play and, well, perhaps we should put an embargo on mentioning Lawrie until he’s actually here, no?

Lawrie returned to active duty Thursday, playing third base in an injury rehabilitation assignment at Single-A Dunedin, for the first time since sustaining a non-displaced fracture on the back of his left hand on May 31. That injury occurred just hours after manager John Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos sent out signals that the Langley, B.C., native was on the verge of being called up. Bautista, who made the All-Star Game as a right fielder, was forced to move to third to keep the spot warm for Lawrie. Now he’s day to day, after much pregame conjecture about Lawrie’s ETA. Detect a trend?

It is understandable, this fixation with Lawrie. A home-grown star? A player who can ensure Edwin Encarnacion’s glove never again sees the light of a major league day? We’re all about that! Yet while Anthopoulos shares Farrell’s belief that there is a value to having a young player evaluated during the dog days of August instead of simply waiting for the September call-up period – “You definitely get a better evaluation in August than September,” he said – he also has started the process of managing expectations.

“Any young player that we call up, I expect them to be optioned down some time,” Anthopoulos said as the Blue Jays took batting practice before the first game of a four-game series against the New York Yankees. “It’s not that I want them to. It’s just that reality dictates it. People have talked about Brett Lawrie coming up here and staying, but look at the numbers. Look at this field right now. Almost everybody’s been optioned: Romero, Snider, Morrow – he’s been optioned. Eric Thames has been optioned. Position players, you’re likely going to burn one option. Starters? Three, maybe four options.”

On several levels, it will be a shame if Bautista’s injury is serious or turns into one of those petulant, nagging aches. Because proximity to a healthy Bautista could not hurt Lawrie’s development. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bautista is the first American League player in the expansion era to lead the first half of a season in home runs, walks, slugging and on-base percentage. Bautista is the embodiment of the vagaries of the game – from living on the waiver wire for much of his career to hobnobbing with Justin Timberlake at awards shows … to, yes, hobbling off the field 24 hours later.

There’s a great deal waiting for Lawrie up here. Case in point? Saturday’s Yankees starter, CC Sabathia, has held Bautista hitless in 15 career at-bats, with seven strikeouts. Sabathia carved up Bautista with sliders and change-ups in a 5-4 Yankees win on May 24. It took just 11 pitches to hang an 0-for-4 on Bautista, who also stranded five base runners.

Farrell thinks the slight hitch in Sabathia’s delivery messes with hitters’ timing. “That [the hitch]was something Dick Pole introduced to me when he was my pitching coach in Cleveland,” Sabathia said. “It’s not really for deception. It was just something to give me more time to gather myself, to help me with my balance.”

Sabathia, Bautista said, doesn’t have any “pronounced tendencies like some guys.” If he did? Trust us: Bautista would find them.

“Look, I develop a game plan and try to put it to work,” Bautista said. “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I don’t lose any sleep over it … because it works most of the time. I don’t change my approach because somebody’s had success against me or because I’ve had success against them.”

Sop there you go, Brett. Can’t wait for you to get here. Stay healthy, Godspeed – and bring a notebook.

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