Saunders gets start at DH in Minors game

Outfielder progressing well after left knee surgery

Saunders gets start at DH in Minors game

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One of the most positive developments for the Blue Jays this spring occurred Thursday afternoon when outfielder Michael Saunders appeared in his first Minor League game.

Less than three weeks after undergoing surgery on his left knee, Saunders got the start at designated hitter and received five at-bats. It's a remarkable development considering it wasn't that long ago Saunders was expected to be out until the All-Star break.

The hope now is that Saunders will be ready for Opening Day, but even if that doesn't happen, he shouldn't have to miss an extended period of time during the regular season.

"I certainly hope so, that's for sure," Saunders said of being ready for April 6. "Opening Day is such an artificial date. If this was mid-season, we'd drop a mid-July or a late July, but due to the significance of Opening Day that's what we're all aiming for.

"I'm not going to be in Spring Training mode come April 6, that wouldn't be fair to the guys. If I'm ready, if my knee is healthy, I have some at-bats, I feel comfortable in the box and in the outfield, then we'll make our final decision, but until then, I'm going to have to remain back until I'm ready to play the outfield."

Saunders had an opposite field single in his five at-bats on the Minor League side. He'll continue DHing at the other camp until he is ready to start running and playing the field. There's no defined timetable for when that might take place, and a lot of it will depend on how the knee responds to an increased workload.

The luxury of receiving at-bats in the Minor Leagues means that Saunders didn't have to run after his at-bats. He remained in the batter's box, but it's a great first step to getting his timing at the plate after previously being limited to batting practice and watching pitches during bullpen sessions.

"I felt like I was seeing the ball well; I felt like I was laying off some pitches," Saunders said. "I swung at some pitches outside of the zone, but it's all about getting back into the routine. I'm just ecstatic to be where I'm at right now."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.