Donaldson could return this weekend

Tulowitzki nearing return, as well; team may tighten bullpen

Donaldson could return this weekend

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson might return to the Blue Jays' lineup as soon as this weekend, according to Toronto manager John Gibbons.

Gibbons told reporters on Monday afternoon that it's possible Donaldson will be back at some point during an upcoming three-game series against the Orioles starting on Friday in Baltimore. Toronto is in the process of deciding whether Donaldson needs a rehab assignment beforehand and, if so, what that schedule will look like.

Donaldson has been out of action since April 13 because of a strained right calf muscle. He has spent the last several weeks going through light hitting and fielding drills, but it appears as though the former American League MVP has since turned a corner in his recovery and will be back in the very near future.

"It's just kind of a progression," Gibbons said. "Each day they throw a little bit more at him. We'll make sure he's good and ready. Each day they increase what he's doing. With his ground balls, it's the range, things like that. ... He's ready to come back, but he also understands that there's certain things you've got to do before you come back. But he's getting close to that point."

Tulowitzki begins rehab

Veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki went 1-for-3 with an RBI single during his first official rehab game for Class A Dunedin on Monday night. Tulowitzki grounded into a fielder's choice in the first, flied out to center field in the third and hit an RBI single in the fifth before he was lifted for a pinch runner.

Tulowitzki initially was supposed to play in the Minor Leagues on Saturday, but he was scratched from the lineup because of the wet conditions in central Florida. The 32-year-old has been out since April 21 because of a strained right hamstring, but he's tentatively scheduled to return to the Blue Jays on Wednesday in Atlanta.

The nine-man bullpen

The Blue Jays have spent the vast majority of their season with eight or nine men in the bullpen, but those days likely are coming to an end. Toronto played Monday night's game against Atlanta with nine relievers, but when Tulowitzki and Donaldson potentially return later this week, two of those spots will be gone.

Toronto also is considering adding another position player for Tuesday's game against the Braves, which would eliminate one man from the 'pen, but the expectation is that would be a brief one-day assignment before an additional move is made to create a spot for Tulowitzki.

Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera all appear to have guaranteed spots. Jason Grilli, J.P. Howell and Danny Barnes remain the favorites to hold onto the other three spots, but that leaves the club without a long reliever and would result in Dominic Leone and Leonel Campos being returned to the Minors.

"I don't think it's going to last long," Gibbons said of the current alignment. "But there are some guys in the 'pen that we want to stay away from unless we absolutely need them, have a lead or something. That's the thinking behind there but we can't play with a short bench for 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.