Activated from DL, Bautista leads off, plates 2

Serving as DH, slugger likely to remain toward top of Blue Jays' batting order

Activated from DL, Bautista leads off, plates 2

TORONTO -- Jose Bautista made his return to the Blue Jays' starting lineup on Thursday night after missing the previous 15 days with a twisted left knee, but it was not enough to avoid a 6-3 loss to the Angels.

Bautista was activated from the DL prior to the game, and he went 1-for-4 with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly in the losing cause. Ryan Goins was optioned to the Minor Leagues to make room for Bautista on the 25-man roster.

The 35-year-old Bautista got the start at designated hitter and hit in the leadoff spot in his first game since Aug. 9. He will either remain in the top spot of the batting order or move down to No. 2 when Devon Travis returns later this week from a sore right knuckle.

Fans welcome back Bautista

"It's been tough," Bautista said before the game of his season, which has included two stints on the DL. "I've had to deal with a lot. But, overall, I think I've contributed. I've always said that you win games by scoring one more run than the other team, and my on-base percentage, RBIs and runs scored per game are not bad at all.

"I just want to finish off strong. Look, we're in first place. I don't think I'm going to focus a lot on my individual situation. If we continue to win and I'm playing every day, I'm sure I'll contribute, and at the end of the year, my numbers are going to look fine."

Bautista is expected to see a lot of time at DH over the coming days. He will still occasionally be used in right field and may return there on a full-time basis later in the year, but for now, the club wants to take a cautious approach with Bautista's left knee.

Edwin Encarnacion is expected to see a lot of time at first base, while Bautista's stint at DH will cost Justin Smoak some playing time. Kevin Pillar, Melvin Upton Jr. and Michael Saunders -- when healthy -- will assume the bulk of the playing time in the outfield.

Bautista has informed the team that he is willing and ready to play the outfield, but for the immediate future, that will not be necessary, at least on an everyday basis.

"I spoke with him last night," Gibbons said of Bautista. "He said he feels fine to play the outfield, but we said, 'We'll make sure to give you plenty of time at DH, just to guard that thing a little bit.' I think it would be smart."

Saunders out

Saunders was held out of the Blue Jays' lineup on Thursday because of a sore hamstring. Saunders felt the leg tighten up during Wednesday's 8-2 loss to the Angels and had to be removed in the bottom of the ninth. For now, Saunders is considered day to day.

"It locked up on him last night, so it doesn't leave a lot on the bench," Gibbons said.

Travis needs another day

Travis was also held out of the starting lineup on Thursday for a third consecutive game. He has been dealing with a sprained tendon in his right ring finger, but it's not clear how he sustained the injury.

The original hope was that Travis would be ready to play in Thursday's series finale against the Angels, but he needed more time. Darwin Barney took his spot in the starting lineup at second base, while the injury to Saunders meant Toronto played Thursday's game with Josh Thole as the only healthy player on its bench.

"He's going to need another day," Gibbons said. "He feels a little better. Hopefully tomorrow. We can't let it linger too, too long."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. 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.