TORONTO — The Blue Jays activated outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from the COVID-IL on Monday after he missed the weekend due to side effects from receiving the vaccine. The club also activated Robbie Ray from the 10-day injured list prior to his return to the rotation on Monday night against the Yankees, an important first step in getting the staff back to full health.
Gurriel was experiencing nausea during Friday’s game against the Angels and left in the third inning, but he is back with the club now. Josh Palacios and Jonathan Davis are still on the roster as outfield depth as George Springer continues to rehab from a quad injury and Teoscar Hernández remains on the COVID-IL quarantining after a close contact outside of the organization recently tested positive.
Ray has been out since late in Spring Training with a left elbow contusion after falling down a flight of stairs. The timing was particularly unfortunate for both Ray and the Blue Jays given how well the 29-year-old lefty had pitched in Spring Training, posting a 1.98 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 13 2/3 innings.
Regardless of the order they’re currently set in, Ray is essentially the Blue Jays’ No. 2 starter behind ace Hyun Jin Ryu, who will pitch in Game 2 of this Yankees series. Ray also brings something the rotation needs, which is upside. Toronto’s depth remains impressive, which is why it’s been able to weather early injuries to Ray, No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson and right-hander Thomas Hatch without digging too deep into its system. However, what the pitching staff needs most is talent capable of pitching in the top half of a rotation. When Ray is on and healthy, he has that potential.
The good news regarding Ray is that he was built up close to his full workload when he went down with the injury and has been able to get back close to that point. Covering innings will be a challenge for clubs all season long, and Ray will need to avoid walks to stretch deeper into games, but he should have very few physical restrictions as he returns.
Ross Stripling remains in the rotation for another turn through, while T.J. Zeuch, who followed an opener in his last outing, is still part of that picture as well. Stripling’s return also comes one day after manager Charlie Montoyo announced that right-hander Tanner Roark would be shifting to the bullpen for the time being.
In corresponding moves, the Blue Jays optioned right-hander Joel Payamps and infielder Santiago Espinal back to the alternate training site.
Espinal had a fantastic 2021 debut in Saturday’s 15-1 win over the Angels, going 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI, scoring twice. Now 26, Espinal is behind Joe Panik on the club’s infield depth chart, but given his versatility, he’s a perfect fit to have on the taxi squad, and it’s easy to envision him playing a role at multiple points throughout the season.