Clock ticking for Encarnacion's spring prep

Gibbons: Slugger will be in Opening Day lineup if healthy

Clock ticking for Encarnacion's spring prep

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Edwin Encarnacion is expected to resume baseball activities at some point next week, but the clock is ticking for the veteran slugger to have enough preparation time before the start of the regular season.

Encarnacion has yet to appear in a game this spring after he needed to have an abscessed tooth pulled early in camp and then later sustained a strained oblique. There is still time to get ready for Opening Day, but any minor set back along the way could change that in a hurry.

The Blue Jays still expect Encarnacion to be ready, but the only way that can happen is if he resumes hitting in the near future. Encarnacion has been working out on the field, but when he'll be able to face live pitching still remains relatively uncertain.

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"He's improving, I can't tell you when he's going to get into a game yet," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They have a program for him, and he's following that, but he's feeling better. Hopefully it's not too much longer, we can't afford it to be too much longer."

Encarnacion has been down this road before. Last spring, Encarnacion was sidelined with a sore back and was limited to 25 at-bats over 11 Grapefruit League games. The lack of appearances appeared to play a role in his slow start to the 2015 season as he hit .205 with a .610 OPS in the first month of the year.

The 33-year-old eventually turned things around and had yet another productive year in a Blue Jays uniform, but the potential for another slow start has to be considered a concern with two weeks remaining until Opening Day. Encarnacion needs at least a little bit of time to get his timing right at the plate, but if there's any way he can avoid a stint on the disabled list, he will be in the lineup on April 3 against the Rays.

"They all [need timing], but if he's healthy and he's able to play some games down here, he'll be in there," Gibbons said. "It's not ideal, but what are we going to do about it? He's a key part of the team. The key is, you have to get rid of the thing so it doesn't linger and cause problems throughout the season. That's the No. 1 factor right now."

Worth noting

• Fans who purchased tickets for Saturday afternoon's rained-out game against the Phillies are eligible to receive a rain check. Tickets can be exchanged for games either later this spring or next year, and the rain check will be valid for 365 games. For more information, fans are encouraged to contact Dunedin's box office at 727-733-0429.

• Right-hander Gavin Floyd was scheduled to start Saturday afternoon's game against the Phillies, but instead he will pitch in relief in Sunday's 1:07 P.M. ET game against the Pirates. Veteran Marco Estrada will start Sunday's game, which will air on MLB.TV, while lefty J.A. Happ will now start in a Minor League game the same day.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.