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‘Ball of fire’ Lawrie ready to make season debut for Jays

Toronto Blue Jays Brett Lawrie watches a long fly ball he hit as he runs up the baseline in the third inning of their spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Dunedin, Florida March 2, 2013.


Brett Lawrie flew from Tampa to Buffalo on Wednesday, tweeted while riding a limousine for the two-hour commute to Toronto, arrived in the Blue Jays clubhouse just before 4 p.m. wearing a grey sweatshirt and white baseball cap, and immediately took a ribbing from pitcher Darren Oliver.

"I'm here two seconds and you're on me already," Lawrie yelled back across the room, drawing a laugh from Oliver.

Activated off the 15-day disabled list (oblique strain) on Tuesday in time to start his 2013 season against the Chicago White Sox, Lawrie was put into the lineup at third base and sixth in the batting order.

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The Jays had experimented with using him at second base while he rehabilitated the injury at the spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla.

Manager John Gibbons's infield on Tuesday had Lawrie at third, Munenori Kawasaki at shortstop in place of the injured Jose Reyes, Maicer Izturis at second and Adam Lind at first, with the regular first baseman Edwin Encarnacion in the DH slot. Jose Bautista (back) was out of the lineup for the second straight game and the fifth of Toronto's 14 to date, having missed the three in the first week with a sprained ankle. He is available for pinch-hit duty.

Izturis, more comfortable as a middle infielder, had played five games at third with Lawrie away, with Emilio Bonifacio manning second base for eight games, a combination that led to defensive miscues. Bonifacio was in right field for Tuesday's game, and leading off in Reyes's batting order slot.

"Now guys are back in the positions they need to be in, where they don't to worry about anything, just go play," Lawrie said, after batting practice.

In his animated hyper style, Lawrie circled the clubhouse under the third-base stands, giving teammates a handshake and a slap on the back. The backslap was executed with such force, it may have left hand imprints.

"He's one of the cornerstones of our team," Gibbons said, in his pre-game session with reporters. "We expect him to play here a lot of years. He brings a lot of energy. Everybody likes him. He's a ball of fire."

Gibbons wants Lawrie to "play smart" in deference to the oblique strain. He lost a month last season with a similar injury, and this season had been out of action since March 7. Lawrie, however, plays the game intensely and said that he felt no problems moving quickly to his right and left for ground balls in Florida, and also swinging the bat.

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The Jays had originally targeted Friday for his return, but expedited the date after Reyes went down.

Getting comfortable with Kawasaki, a player who likewise doesn't inhibit his emotions on the field, is merely a matter of determining how much range the shortstop has to his left, Lawrie said.

When Bautista returns to right field, Bonifacio could be odd-man out which would leave a hole in the leadoff spot. Gibbons said Melky Cabrera (.280) could be moved up from second in the order, when Bonifacio isn't playing. Bonifacio could also see time in centre field, particularly against left-handers, at DH or second base.

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