Saunders to begin rehab assignment with Dunedin

Blue Jays outfielder missed all of Spring Training due to left knee injury

Saunders to begin rehab assignment with Dunedin

NEW YORK -- Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Dunedin on Thursday.

Saunders, who is rehabbing from left knee surgery, has been cleared to run without restrictions and is scheduled to play left field for Dunedin. He previously was limited to starting at designated hitter in Minor League games at spring camp and did not run the bases.

The 28-year-old Saunders is eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday, but he has been ruled out for that weekend series in Baltimore. The earliest he could return is Toronto's home opener against the Rays on Monday.

"Everything I've been told, they don't think it will bother him," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Saunders' knee. "There might be some days that he's sore, but they don't think it will affect his running or anything like that. When he's older he may need a new knee, a replacement ... but they think he's going to be fine."

Saunders missed all of Spring Training after tearing the meniscus in his left knee while shagging fly balls at the club's Minor League complex a couple of days before camp was scheduled to open. He later had 60 percent of the meniscus removed during surgery and was expected to return at some point in April.

The fact that Saunders received some at-bats as a DH during the Minor League portion of Spring Training should speed up his recovery, but the Blue Jays insist they won't rush him back to the big leagues.

"That's definitely helped him, no doubt," Gibbons said of the DH at-bats. "But still, there's something to getting out there, running around, and all that, too, that he needs to do.

"You want to make sure; sometimes when you bring guys back too fast, their timing's off, they're not quite 100 percent. It's usually not a good result early on. Time is on our side, we're lucky it happened when it did, but we want to make sure he's good and ready."

Saunders was acquired in an offseason deal with Seattle for left-hander J.A. Happ. The native of Victoria, British Columbia, hit .273 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 78 games for the Mariners last season. He will take over the starting duties in left field upon his return, while Kevin Pillar is expected to slide into the role of fourth outfielder.

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.