ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Toronto Blue Jays are getting a big part of their offence back at the cost of a fan favourite.
With shortstop and leadoff hitter Jose Reyes set to come off the disabled list on Wednesday, the club optioned Munenori Kawasaki to triple-A Buffalo after Tuesday's 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The eccentric Kawasaki has endeared himself to both fans and players in Toronto since being called up from the minors after Reyes suffered a left ankle sprain in mid-April.
The 32-year-old Kawasaki brought energy to a struggling team and helped the Blue Jays to a club-record tying 11-game winning streak that got them back into playoff contention after a disastrous start to the season.
"It's tough," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You feel for the kid — he did a tremendous job for us. But he'll be back."
Kawasaki had a modest .225 batting average with 17 RBIs in 60 games with Toronto, but he also had a flair for the dramatic. The Japanese shortstop had a walk-off double against Baltimore last month and blasted his first major league home run on Friday in Toronto's 7-6 victory over those same Orioles.
Fans at Rogers Centre chanted Kawasaki's name after his homer in the seventh tied the game 6-6, and he obliged them with a curtain call that included three bows.
"I love the guy. He's a great guy the way he handles his business," Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle said. "On the other side we're getting Reyes back. We know what he brings to the table and hopefully he can kind of spark this team."
Kawasaki accepted his demotion to triple-A gracefully.
"I'm just one lucky guy to be able to play the game and play the game in this environment," Kawasaki said through an interpreter. "So I don't feel like I came up here to show anybody anything other than how much I love the game of baseball and I'll continue to do that. I feel like I'm just one lucky guy."
In Reyes, the Blue Jays are getting a dynamic player who joined the club in a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins during a busy off-season.
Before getting hurt while sliding into second base at Kansas City on April 13, Reyes was one of the lone bright spots for the Blue Jays early in 2013. In 10 games, he batted .395 with five RBIs, five runs scored, five stole bases and one home run.
"I'm very excited about (returning from injury)," Reyes said. "I missed two months of doing what I love to do and now I know I'm going to be on the field one more time around my team. The way they're playing, I want to be part of the success they're having right now."
Gibbons says Reyes has no limitations.
"He's one of those centrepieces of our team," Gibbons said. "Before he got hurt he was great. He was playing really well. He's been gone a while and now maybe he can put us over the top. We'll see."
— With files from The Associated Press