Blue Jays welcome back Donaldson, Tulo

Blue Jays welcome back Donaldson, Tulo

TORONTO -- For at least one night, everything in Blue Jays land felt normal. Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki were back, the middle of the order was hitting home runs and the Rangers never seemed to have much of a chance. It was just like old times.

To some, normalcy might seem boring. To the Blue Jays, it's anything but, because after weeks of uncertainty and turmoil, the old gang is back together. Donaldson and Tulowitzki returned from the disabled list for Friday's 7-6 victory over Texas and for the first time since early April, this team has something to be excited about.

Following a 2-11 start to the year, prolonged absences from two of the club's best hitters were supposed to derail the season. Instead, the Blue Jays went 20-18 without Donaldson to remain within striking distance. As Toronto nears full health, it finds itself just four games back in the American League Wild Card standings. A window of opportunity has resurfaced.

"I feel good because we've been waiting on this day," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after Tulowitzki and Donaldson were activated from the DL. "It's kind of nice that they're both back together. These are two key parts in how this team was put together. And I feel good about what the other guys did, holding down the fort. We're still, naturally, not where we wanted to be anyway, but I think we very easily could have disappeared, but those other guys played so well."

Gibbons unveiled a new lineup for Friday's series opener vs. the Rangers that looked a lot closer to the one people expected at the start of the year. Donaldson was in his familiar two-hole while Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak and Russell Martin followed, which pushed Tulowitzki into the seventh spot. All of a sudden, a lineup that looked so top-heavy earlier this week, had Devon Travis hitting eighth and all he did Friday night was hit a grand slam.

Travis' grand slam

Donaldson did not take very long to make his presence felt. He doubled off the wall in his first at-bat and later created havoc on the basepaths while bouncing off third base in a lengthy staredown with Rangers starter A.J. Griffin. Tulowitzki singled, walked twice and scored a run while also passing each and every test that came his way in the field. They still have to shake off some rust, and they'll both take a day off on Saturday to rest, but it's not hard to argue that things are looking up for Toronto.

"Not that I ever take the game for granted, but when you miss as much time as I had to this year, to get back out there, you realize what you were missing," Donaldson said. "I always want to be out there. I always want to help our team win. It was nice to get back there and help out right away."

Toronto did not lose much ground in the standings without two of its top performers. The Blue Jays were 5 1/2 games out of first place when Donaldson hit the DL and 7 1/2 games back when they lost Tulowitzki. Toronto finished play on Friday trailing the division-leading Yankees by 6 1/2 games.

Tulowitzki's first hit in return

"That's what makes a team strong, is when core guys go down, you have guys that can step in and hold the fort down until the guys come back and that's exactly what they did," Tulowitzki said. "In the long run, that's going to make us a better team.

"You're not going to be healthy the whole year, come playoff time or crunch time or whatever it may be, you can count on those guys, whether it be pinch-hits, pinch-running. Those guys did a great job. They know we're very appreciative of what they did and that's why they're pros."

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.