TORONTO -- The Blue Jays appear to have settled on designated hitter Adam Lind as their regular cleanup hitter vs. right-handed pitchers.
Edwin Encarnacion began the season in that role, but over the past couple of weeks, he has given way to Lind. That's where Lind found himself in the Blue Jays' 9-6 win on Tuesday night, which marked the seventh time this year he hit fourth. He went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, two runs scored and a home run.
The club's decision certainly doesn't have anything to do with Encarnacion's performance at the plate, because he has been the Blue Jays' most valuable hitter in May. Instead, it has to do with splitting up the right-handed bats and providing some matchup problems for teams late in games.
"I kind of like it, if you can split those guys up. Lindy has been so good, and then you go right-left-right-left," Gibbons said of the Jose Bautista, Lind, Encarnacion and Juan Francisco alignment. "It has to make it tougher on the other side, instead of going right, right, and then you have a couple of lefties back-to-back."
The risk that comes with moving Encarnacion down in the order is that teams could decide to start pitching around him more frequently. That happened to Bautista during the first month of the year, when Encarnacion got off to a slow start.
But that still hasn't been an issue for Encarnacion. He homered again Tuesday night to tie Bautista for the most by any Blue Jays player in a single month with 14. The aggressive approach taken by opposing pitchers has been confusing at times, but Francisco and Brett Lawrie hitting sixth and seventh, respectively, is perhaps causing teams to pause before giving away an at-bat.
There's also the fact that Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Bautista and Lind have been getting on base with enough frequency to force the issue even further.
"I'm not surprised, because they want to get you out," Encarnacion said when asked about the pitch selection he has seen in recent weeks. "That's why I have to stay aggressive, stay aggressive in the strike zone. If they're going to throw me a strike, I'm going to keep swinging."
Streaking Blue Jays have more weapons in '14
TORONTO -- There's very little doubt that the Blue Jays are the hottest team in baseball right now, but the challenge will be finding a way to sustain their success.
With a 9-6 victory vs. Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, Toronto is currently riding an eight-game winning streak. That's impressive enough on its own, but the results become even better when taking a look at how the past several weeks have unfolded.
The Blue Jays have won 11 of their past 12 games and 18 of 23 dating back to May 4. That final mark equates to a .783 winning percentage, which clearly can't be maintained through the remainder of the year. There are bound to be some bumps along the way, and it's how the club responds to that adversity that will ultimately dictate its spot in the standings.
Some teams get hot and then find a way to carry most of that momentum throughout the season. Other teams show flashes of brilliance and then crash back to reality a short time after. A perfect example of that could be found last year when the Blue Jays had an 11-game winning streak in June and then had everything fall apart once and for all before the All-Star break.
That begs the question about whether this year's squad is on a similar trajectory or whether it's for real. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons obviously believes it's the latter, but he has a few solid reasons for why he thinks that's the case.
"Last year, we had to do that to get to .500," Gibbons said. "This year, we've done it to climb over .500, so that's a big difference.
"The offense is better this year; we have more weapons in there. The key last year, it was kind of what's going on now. The pitching improved for those two weeks considerably. The bullpen was pretty strong to begin with. Everything came together just like it is this year, but we're in a different position now. I think this year is a stronger team."
The big uncertainty surrounding this team remains the starting rotation. It seems extremely unlikely that Mark Buehrle will be able to maintain his current pace (9-1, 2.33 ERA), but for the most part, Toronto knows what its going to get from the veteran left-hander and also knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Right-hander Drew Hutchison also has developed a reasonable level of consistency, even though he's still 23 years old.
That leaves J.A. Happ and Liam Hendriks as the starters with varying levels of skepticism hanging over their heads. Happ has made an early statement by going 4-1 with a 3.34 ERA, but the sample size is still small, while Hendriks can't even be evaluated because he has one start under his belt.
There are plenty of reasons to doubt that the Blue Jays' rotation will be able to maintain its current pace, but don't tell that to Gibbons. When pressed for answers on his starters, Gibbons took the perceived skepticism and shot it right back at the reporters in a half-joking manner. The media suggested the rotation can't keep this up and Gibbons response was essentially, 'Why not?'
"How do you know it can't happen?" Gibbons said. "It could happen. You never know what might happen. ... Shoot, Happ might go 20-1."
• Colby Rasmus will be sent out on a rehab assignment before making his return from a strained right hamstring. That was assumed to be the plan all along, but it was at least somewhat in question when Rasmus recently told a group of reporters that he thought a return without playing in any Minor League games was possible. Manager John Gibbons quickly dismissed that notion Tuesday afternoon.
"I haven't asked him, I hadn't heard anything, but he needs to go down and play," Gibbons said. "He needs to go down and play some games."
There's still no immediate timetable for Rasmus' return to the Blue Jays' lineup. He has gone through a series of running drills over the past several days, and it's expected he will begin an assignment in the very near future. He'll likely be back in early June.