Saunders' rehab stint almost over, set to join Blue Jays

Outfielder could be back for team's weekend series at Rays

Saunders' rehab stint almost over, set to join Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Michael Saunders is nearing a return and it's possible that he'll join the Blue Jays in St. Petersburg on Friday night.

Saunders, who underwent left knee surgery earlier this spring, has been on a rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Dunedin. He played left field on Sunday and will continue working in the field through the middle of this week.

If everything goes well in the coming days, Saunders will make the short drive to St. Petersburg on Friday, where Toronto opens a three-game series against the Rays.

"He felt pretty good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said when asked about Saunders' appearance in left field. "These next couple of days, hopefully get him nine innings and see where he's at. Ideally, he can just meet us down in Tampa on Friday night, I would think."

The original plan was for Saunders to continue his rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo. That changed due to a brief setback with a tight hamstring and the timing of Toronto's upcoming series in Central Florida.

The belief is that Saunders has received plenty of at-bats and won't need to advance to another level and face better competition. The lone obstacle remaining is for Saunders to play nine innings in the field this week and make sure there is no lingering soreness in either his repaired left knee or right hamstring.

"You always want them to have better competition, but he's had a lot of at-bats," Gibbons said. "He was taking at-bats in Spring Training. He wasn't running, but he really liked standing in when a pitcher is throwing a bullpen. He would stand in and track the ball. I don't think that's an issue."

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.