Saunders nearing return to game action

Outfielder to begin in Minor League tilt; Encarnacion to start hitting in next few days

Saunders nearing return to game action

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Michael Saunders continues to show a lot of progress in his return from a left knee injury, and he will likely hit in a Minor League game within the next day or two.

Saunders took batting practice prior to Sunday afternoon's game against the Canadian Junior Team. He appeared to be driving the ball well and didn't show any ill effects from last month's procedure that removed 60 percent of the meniscus from his knee.

The 28-year-old Saunders will still have to pass a series of running tests, and he isn't quite ready to take the field, but the fact that he's hitting this early means it's looking more and more likely he could be ready for Opening Day.

"Tomorrow, or the next day, he's going to go down to the Minor Leagues and he's going to hit," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Sunday morning. "He's not going to run, but he's going to hit, so he'll get some at-bats in the DH spot so everything is moving forward."

In other injury news, Edwin Encarnacion is expected to resume hitting on Tuesday. Encarnacion has been out for the past week because of a sore lower back. There is still no timeframe for his return to game action, but taking batting practice will mark the first major step in the recovery process.

Catcher Dioner Navarro made his return from a left knee injury on Sunday afternoon. Navarro got the start at designated hitter in Toronto's split-squad game against the Braves, but he remains at least a few days away from getting behind the plate.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.