At least for now, Munenori Kawasaki, once a Japanese League version of Jose Reyes, becomes the Blue Jay shortstop in the wake of Reyes’s ankle injury in Cleveland on Friday night.
In Japan, Kawasaki was known for attributes that characterize Reyes – a Gold Glove infielder who hit for a high average, ranked among the league leaders in stolen bases, and exhibited sheer joy for the game.
He’s played one Major League season, becoming a fan favourite in Seattle despite hitting just .192 in 61 games. A Seattle Times blog described him as lovingly goofy, often seen with a huge grin on his face, and as one who celebrated victories with uninhibited passion.
The 31-year-old Kawasaki became a starting shortstop in the Japanese League in the 2004 season, playing for the Hawks. He led the league in hits and steals that season, while winning the Gold Glove Award. He made the country’s World Baseball Classic roster in 2006, when Japan won the championship, and also the 2008 Beijing Olympics roster, although he had to bow out due to injury.
Toronto signed the 5-foot-10 inch shortstop in mid-March as a free agent and promoted him from Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday, the day after Reyes suffered an ankle injury sliding awkwardly into second base in Kansas City. Reyes is expected to miss one to three months, although he tweeted optimistically on Saturday that he’ll be back “soon.”
GM Alex Anthopolous was reportedly shopping for other options. Among them may be John McDonald, a popular utility infielder with the Jays until being traded to Arizona midway through the 2011 season, who joined the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.
If the weight of expectations affected the performance of other players on the Jays roster in the season’s first two weeks, Reyes played as though exempt. Averaging .395 with a .465 on-base percentage, five RBIs and a league-leading five stolen bases, Reyes at long last appeared to be filling the Jays traditional hole at the top of the batting order.
He told the public recently that he belonged in Toronto and became an immediate positive clubhouse presence, continuing to encourage both fans and fellow players as the team struggled through the first three series of the season. “We believe in our talent,” he said earlier this week.
The cruel irony of Reyes’s injury was the is that it occurred sliding feet-first into second base rather than head-first, his usual approach. The head-first slide is considered more dangerous, and Reyes was nearly injured during the opening homestand when his shoulder collided with an opponent’s knee on a play at second.
“Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain,” Reyes tweeted, in the aftermath of the injury. “Thank you guys for all the love and the prayers. I put everything is God’s hands.”
As a rookie with the Mets in 2003, Reyes had a similar injury, a Grade 2 sprain. He’s also endured hamstring and back problems.
“You never want to see it, but at the same time, you’ve been through enough to know it’s going to happen over the course of the season,” Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “If it’s good news, you’re looking at four weeks. The other scenario could be three months.”
Reyes came to Toronto in the 12-player November trade with Miami that fired up the great expectations of Jays fans, but so far is looking gloomy.
Pitcher Josh Johnson 11.05 ERA would rank next to last in the Major Leagues, if he’d logged enough innings to qualify. Mark Buehrle’s ERA is 10.24. Emilio Bonifacio has committed four errors in eight games while hitting .250 with 13 strikeouts and no walks. Former Jay John Buck came back to Toronto in the same deal, and was flipped to the Mets in the trade for R.A. Dickey. Dickey, the starter in Kansas City on Saturday night, was hit hard in his first two outings while Buck led the National League with 19 RBIs, with a .351 batting average.