ST. PETERSBURG -- The final piece to the Blue Jays' puzzle was added Friday night when Troy Tulowitzki made his return from a three-week absence because of a cracked left shoulder blade.
Tulowitzki hit seventh in Toronto's batting order and went 2-for-5 with a double and a run scored during an 8-4 victory over Tampa Bay. He also looked smooth in the field by turning a double play and making a pair of off-balance throws.
A return to health was the final lingering concern for an organization that will open the American League Division Series on Thursday. Toronto's opponent has yet to be determined, but its magic number to clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason is two. Kansas City currently has the same record, but the Blue Jays own the tiebreaker with two games to go.
"Got a few groundballs early, got some swing and misses, barreled some balls up, overall I got to test it out real well," Tulowitzki said. "Sometimes you go through a game with not much feedback, but I did pretty much everything."
Tulowitzki's return provides a lot more clarity to the potential Blue Jays' postseason roster. He'll resume his starting duties at shortstop while Ryan Goins slides back over to second base and Cliff Pennington likely becomes the utility infielder.
The fact that Tulowitzki returned at all during the regular season is at least somewhat surprising. He sustained the injury during a collision with center fielder Kevin Pillar on Sept. 12 and was originally ruled out for 2-3 weeks. Internally, though, there had been some concern that the injury wouldn't heal in time for the postseason.
The cracked shoulder blade was one thing, but Tulowitzki also had to deal with a lot of discomfort in the surrounding muscles. That pain hasn't completely gone away, but according to the All-Star shortstop, "it's good enough to play." That might not be the perfect scenario, but the Blue Jays will take it.
"It's a big relief, first of all, that he's back out there," Pillar said. "Those were some dark days for me, but he has worked extremely hard to get back and he is as good as advertised. That's why we went out and got him.
"He's the best shortstop in the game, and for him to come out -- I don't know whether it has been three weeks, just put together good at-bats and kind of seemed like he hasn't missed a beat -- is huge for us to see."
The final test Tulowitzki had to pass before getting back in the lineup happened earlier in the day on Friday. He took part in a simulated game at Tropicana Field and had six at-bats against three pitchers: No. 1 starter David Price, 2015 No. 1 Draft pick Jon Harris and eighth-round pick Daniel Young.
With no fielders, it's impossible to say exactly how Tulowitzki did, but best estimates were that he finished 3-for-6, with two doubles, a homer and a walk. More importantly he looked good and felt comfortable enough to get the go-ahead from manager John Gibbons to play later that night.
"Bad call on the 0-2," Tulowitzki jokingly said about striking out looking on a pitch from Price. "David is a good friend of mine, obviously. He's a great competitor. Even when we're out there playing a sim game, to be honest, you want to perform well.
"That's what we're going to be talking about in the clubhouse the whole time, so we'll have fun with it. But, yeah, to get a chance to face someone like David -- I've faced him before during the season -- but to get another chance to face one of the best pitchers in the game is always fun, whether he's on your team or not."