Stairs' status for opener in limbo

Stairs' status for opener in limbo

NEW YORK -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons strolled past a group of reporters and sat down inside an interview room in the bowels of Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Before being hit with questions, Gibbons got right to the point.

"I'm excited to be here," Gibbons said. "The last Opening Day in Yankee Stadium is a pretty special day. We're all ready to go. We're just waiting on a couple things, whether Matt Stairs is going to be available or not. We'll test him today."

Beyond several injured players not on hand in New York, Stairs is the lone question mark heading into Toronto's season opener against the Yankees on Monday. Stairs has been nursing a sore left hip flexor, and he used Sunday's workout to see if he'd be available for the Jays' first game of 2008.

After manning left field during batting practice and taking some swings in the cage, Stairs indicated that he was feeling better than he had in the previous few days. Even so, Toronto will make a game-time decision concerning Stairs' status. Gibbons didn't rule out the possibility that Stairs could be headed to the 15-day disabled list.

If that winds up being the case, Stairs isn't one to argue.

"It's whatever is most important for the team," Stairs said. "I think the most important thing is for me to start the season healthy and don't leave the team short-handed. The last thing I'd want to do is to go out and try to play tomorrow, and then play one inning and get hurt and then be out of there for 15 days.

"We'll talk again tomorrow. As of right now, I'm active for the opener."

Stairs, who is projected to be on the positive side of a left-field platoon with outfielder Shannon Stewart, said he doesn't run into any issues with the hip while hitting. The injury has only presented a problem for the 40-year-old while running, when lifting his leg left up during his stride.

On Thursday, Stairs visited a hip specialist who determined that there were no structural issues with the bone or hip socket. The root of the problem is in the muscles surrounding the hip -- similar to an issue Stairs had last season. The veteran said there has been a higher level of discomfort this time around.

"Not to this certain degree," said Stairs, when asked if it was the same injury he played through last season. "I had the hip [problem] last year, but it seemed like every time I saw my chiropractor, it popped back in. This one might be a little bit more intense than the one last year."

Stairs, who hit .289 with 21 home runs and 64 RBIs in 125 games for the Blue Jays last season, signed a two-year contract worth $3.25 million with Toronto in November. If he's unable to play on Monday or is placed on the DL, Gibbons said that Stewart will start in left field and bat second against the Yankees.

Should Stairs open the season on the 15-day DL, joining third baseman Scott Rolen and closer B.J. Ryan, Gibbons said that Toronto would likely consider infielder Joe Inglett for the vacant roster spot. Inglett can man multiple infield positions, play left field in an emergency situation and serve as a pinch-runner off the bench.

"It'd probably be somebody like Inglett," said Gibbons, when asked who might be called up if Stairs is sent to the DL. "If that happens, that's not a definite, but there's probably a good chance he'd be the guy. Plus, he's on the roster and can do some things to help us."

With Rolen out for most of April with a broken right middle finger, Marco Scutaro has been forced into everyday duty at third base, leaving John McDonald as the lone utilityman off the bench. When Rolen was sidelined this spring, outfielder Buck Coats was promoted to the big league club to serve as the Jays' fifth outfielder.

"We've added some depth," Gibbons said. "That's one of the reasons we went out and got Scutaro -- for situations like this. It's not ideal, but we figure he can hold the fort down until Scotty gets back."

Ryan, who is coming back from the Tommy John ligament replacement surgery that he had on his left elbow in May, threw in a bullpen session in Florida on Sunday. If Ryan stays on his current throwing program with no setbacks, the left-hander could potentially rejoin the Blue Jays' bullpen in mid-April.

Even with the injuries that have already hit Toronto's roster -- pitcher Casey Janssen is out for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder -- the Blue Jays have high hopes of competing against their division rivals -- the Yankees and Red Sox -- for a playoff spot this season.

Gibbons welcomes the expectations that have been placed on his team this season, which opens on Monday with a pairing of Jays ace Roy Halladay and Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang.

"You want expectations," Gibbons said. "That means you've got a good ballclub and you're perceived as a good ballclub. And, yeah, I want to be a part of a winner. This will be my seventh year, I think, in Toronto. That's a long time. So sooner or later, something's got to happen."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.