Blue Jays hope Bautista can heal while at DH

Ailing shoulder has kept slugger from playing right field since April 21

Blue Jays hope Bautista can heal while at DH

BALTIMORE -- Jose Bautista's strained right shoulder is taking a lot longer to heal than originally expected, but the Blue Jays insist they are not considering a stint on the 15-day disabled list.

Bautista still isn't able to throw a baseball and hasn't played the field since April 21. He has been limited to taking his at-bats in the DH spot -- where he was listed in the lineup Tuesday night against the Orioles -- and there is no timetable for his return to right field.

The veteran slugger has said it doesn't hurt to swing, but he admitted Monday night that the injury might be taking longer to heal because of his continued presence in the lineup. Despite the lingering discomfort, Toronto manager John Gibbons doesn't think a roster move needs to be made.

"We need him in there," Gibbons said. "A little bit banged-up Bautista is better than most players in the game, so that's part of it. He's a team guy, the team needs him out there, and part of being a big leaguer is playing when you're banged up. That's just part of it. It can affect you but it doesn't mean it can stop you."

The Blue Jays' approach is understandable considering the club is currently trying to get by without the services of Jose Reyes and Michael Saunders. Losing Bautista with a pair of prominent players on the DL would be a serious blow to one of the league's top lineups.

Bautista also has been able to produce at the plate despite the injury. He entered play Tuesday night hitting .295 with seven extra-base hits, eight RBIs and a .919 OPS in 12 games as a DH. Those numbers aren't easy to replace, but if the injury doesn't heal before too long, the club will be forced into making a tough decision.

Justin Smoak has been relegated to the bench because of Bautista's situation while Edwin Encarnacion has been playing every day at first base. That eventually could take its toll on Encarnacion, who dealt with back problems this spring and ideally would evenly split his time between first and DH.

That's not possible under the current circumstances, but the Blue Jays likely will stick with the status quo and buy some additional time for Bautista's injured shoulder. If the strain doesn't heal, then it's possible Toronto could make a roster move when Reyes returns and the club gets closer to an Interleague series in Washington from June 1-3 when the DH spot cannot be used.

All of that is pure speculation, though, because the Blue Jays continue to insist DL time is not necessary.

"It keeps him in the lineup, and he's one of the centerpieces of our lineup," Gibbons said when asked about the injury impacting other spots on the roster. "So I think we'd rather keep him in there. I would anyway."

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.