TORONTO -- The heart of the Blue Jays' lineup received a major boost on Friday night with the return of Colby Rasmus and Edwin Encarnacion.
Rasmus, who homered in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Orioles, had been out since Aug. 11 with a strained oblique muscle, while Encarnacion missed four games with a sprained left wrist.
There was some doubt about whether either player would return before the end of the season, but both ended up making it back with 16 games remaining.
"I feel good, I feel ready to go and I'm going to see how it's going to be in the game," Encarnacion said. "I just want to finish the season playing, finish the season with the team and finish strong."
Encarnacion was cleared by the club's medical staff after he hit off a tee on Thursday and then came to the park the following day and went through a full batting practice. The vast majority of his work is expected to take place at designated hitter, with Adam Lind assuming regular duties at first base.
With just over two weeks remaining in the season, Encarnacion still has enough time to become just the third Blue Jays player to hit 40 home runs in back-to-back seasons. He's just four shy of that mark after hitting 42 in 151 games last season.
It would secure Encarnacion's place in the club's history books, but the veteran slugger said it's not something he has put a lot of thought into lately. The bigger concern has been the wrist, and even though he'll likely play the rest of the year with some discomfort, he's not at risk of doing any further damage.
"I don't think about hitting 40 home runs. I'm just thinking about trying to be healthy, trying to finish the season playing, and I don't think about whether I need two more, three more," Encarnacion said. "If I get it, that's great. If not, that's all right, too."
Rasmus made his return in a less than ideal situation, but it certainly didn't show on the field. Ideally, Rasmus would have appeared in at least a couple of rehab games before coming back, but the Minor League regular season is now over and the Blue Jays don't have any affiliates currently in the playoffs.
That meant Rasmus had to leave the club's Minor League complex in Florida last week to rejoin the Blue Jays. He continued his rehab in Toronto but hasn't had the luxury of facing live pitching for more than a month.
Rasmus was expecting to have some timing issues at the plate during his first few games, but ended up going deep in his second at-bat of the night vs. Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel. Rasmus also made a nice running catch in center field and didn't seem to show any ill effects from his oblique injury.
"It felt good. I tried to get my swing ready, and I hoped that would help me to get my timing back quickly and it worked out," Rasmus said. "Definitely the adrenaline is pumping, you want to do something to get a good feeling going, but I just tried to relax as much as I could and focus on things that I was focusing on before I left."
Sierra showing an ability to hit ball to all fields
TORONTO -- Moises Sierra is starting to make a name for himself during his second opportunity at the big league level.
Toronto's outfielder has been on fire at the plate since he was recalled in late August to take over for the injured Jose Bautista. Sierra arguably has been the Blue Jays' best hitter of late after Edwin Encarnacion was forced to miss four games with an injured wrist.
The biggest surprise for the Blue Jays has been Sierra's ability to hit the ball to all fields. Toronto manager John Gibbons previously thought Sierra was strictly a pull hitter, but that hasn't proven to be the case so far this season.
"To be honest, I didn't expect that from Sierra," Gibbons said. "From what we saw in Spring Training, I thought he was a dead [pull] hitter. But to be a good big league hitter, you have to be able to do that, you have to take some simple singles the other way to drive in runs.
"Pitchers up here have a little better command. If they make their pitches away, they kill you if you sit there and try to hook them all the time. You take your hits the other way ... it kind of changes how they have to approach you."
Sierra entered play on Friday night leading the Major Leagues in doubles this month with 10. He also ranked sixth during September with 33 total bases and had seen his average rise to .322 in 59 at-bats.
In total, Sierra had 13 extra-base hits in limited action this season, which is already three more than he had all of last year in almost three times the number of at-bats. The production also has been rather consistent, with Sierra hitting at least one double in all but three of his past 10 games entering Friday.
"I like everything I've seen," Gibbons said. "He has hit some breaking balls, too. He has struck out on some tough breaking balls that nobody was going to hit. But when they make a mistake with it, leave it in a little bit or hang it, he's right on it.
"As far as raw talent, he has as much as anybody. I like everything I've seen."