And he’s back.
After eight games with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, Munenori Kawasaki has been called up to rejoin Toronto’s big league club.
The 32-year-old Japanese infielder replaces an injured Maicer Izturis on the roster, meeting the Blue Jays Tuesday as they begin a three-game set against the Twins in Minnesota.
A rare bright spot in a dark season last year, Kawasaki quickly became a fan favorite for his antics both on and off the field. He hit just .229 with one home run and 24 RBIs through 96 games with Toronto in 2013.
But fans didn’t seem to mind that lack of production.
“People always cheer for the underdog,” said Braeden Ferrington, 20, a Blue Jays fan who also pitches for the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League. “He’s entertaining, (he’s) a team player and most importantly, he sees the game as a privilege.”
Kawasaki spent 10 seasons with Fukuoka of the Nippon Professional Baseball league before making his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was released by Seattle at the end of the season, and was picked up by Toronto prior to the 2013 campaign.
In December, the Blue Jays re-signed Kawasaki to a minor-league deal. But with Ryan Goins snagging the starting second base job out of spring training and Jonathan Diaz stepping up for the injured Jose Reyes early in the season, the lovable Kawasaki remained in Buffalo — hitting .240 with a .269 on-base percentage in 28 at-bats — until now.
Izturis’ torn knee ligament, which he suffered after falling down the dugout steps in Baltimore Sunday, could pave the way for a lengthy Kawasaki renaissance in Toronto.
And it seems the Blue Jays faithful would be OK with that.
“I think fans respond to Kawasaki because they love players who seem to enjoy the game as much as they do ... ” said Todd Pettigrew of Cape Breton, N.S., a Jays supporter for the last 25 years.
“It’s refreshing to watch someone play the game joyfully, (someone who’s) grateful for every opportunity.”
Tyler Bishop, 24, a life-long fan from Bancroft, Ont., couldn’t agree more.
“He seems like he actually enjoys playing the game ... ” Bishop said. “When Kawasaki is on the bench, or in the game, there’s always excitement waiting to happen.”
Kawasaki’s decent defensive capabilities will provide depth to the Blue Jays middle infield, even after Reyes returns — which could be later this week.
Some fans, however, believe Kawasaki can contribute much more.
“His genuine enthusiasm for the game, along with being such a positive influence in the clubhouse makes him a great player ...” said Dakota Stevenson of Cobourg, Ont.
“I can’t wait to see what his presence can bring to the team this year.”
TOP BLUE JAYS OF THE WEEK
RHP Dustin McGowan
McGowan, 32, shook off a disastrous first start against the Yankees at Rogers Centre last week, rebounding to pitch 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Baltimore Friday for his first major league win since 2008.
He gave up five hits, walked one and struck out two as Toronto escaped with a 2-0 win over the Orioles.
Over the past six years, McGowan has missed significant time on the mound, undergoing three shoulder surgeries and spending the entire 2012 season on the disabled list.
After the game, McGowan told reporters he felt good, and that’s “the most important thing.”
“I got the opportunity to pitch again and that’s all I could ask for,” he said. “Just trying to make the best of it.”
Prior to Friday’s win, McGowan had faced Baltimore 13 times, compiling an 0-3 record with a 6.99 ERA over 37 1/3 innings.
LF Melky Cabrera
With a double off Baltimore’s Josh Stinson in the top of the sixth inning Sunday, Cabrera surpassed Vernon Wells’ record of longest consecutive hit streak to start a season.
The hit extended Cabrera’s run to 13 games, one more than Wells’ 12-game hit streak to start the 2006 campaign.
Cabrera leads the American League in total bases with 36, and is tied with Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez for the MLB lead.
NOTES: Jose Bautista has reached safely in each of the 13 games he’s played, either via walk or hit. The Jays' right-fielder leads MLB in walks with 16. ... LHP Mark Buehrle has the fifth-best ERA in the league at 0.86. He’s tied with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale for best record (3-0) through three starts.
GETTING TO KNOW ... RP STEVE DELABAR
My most memorable game: [Steve+Delabar]
“The (2013) all-star game has to be right up there as far as the significance, with it being Mariano (Rivera)’s last one and being my first time there. So that’s definitely my most memorable game so far.”
The best advice I’ve ever received:
“Know who you are, know what kind of player you are and be the best that you can be.
“That’s kind of a learned thing from an amalgamation of people, but Darren Oliver, Casey Janssen, Jamey Wright, who I played with in Seattle, veteran guys like that, they usually give you pretty good advice.”
TOP CANADIANS IN THE MAJORS
Sunday proved to be a powerful day for Canadian big leaguers, as Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.), Colorado’s Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) and Toronto’s Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) all hit home runs.
And if your list of MLB Canadians includes Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman — whose parents were both born in Canada — that’s four home runs from Northern blood in one day.
Votto, hitting in the two-spot for just the second time since 2008, went yard off Tampa Bay’s Cesar Ramos in the third [Joey+Votto] inning of the Reds’ 12-4 win. New Cincinnati manager Bryan Price shuffled Votto up to second in the batting order Saturday, halting the Canadian’s streak of 635 consecutive starts in the three-hole. Since the switch, Votto is 3-for-9 with four runs, two home runs, and two walks.
Morneau, 32, who signed with Colorado in the off-season, had an eight-game hit streak snapped Friday. But he looks to be back on track after blasting an 89-mph sinker off San Francisco’s Tim Hudson for his first home run in a Rockies uniform. The Giants won 5-4 in 10 innings.
Lawrie was one of three Blue Jays to hit home runs in Baltimore as Toronto crushed the Orioles 11-3 (Colby Rasmus and Bautista hit the others). Lawrie, who’s batting just .122 so far this season, was 2-for-5 Sunday.
Freeman hit a two-out, two-run homer off Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, as the Braves downed the Nationals 10-2.
NOTES: Jim Henderson and the Milwaukee Brewers have won nine of their last 10 games. The Calgary native has pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up one run and striking out seven ... Burnaby, BC, native Jim Aducci is making the most of his pinch-hitting role with the Texas Rangers. He has three hits, two runs, two RBIs and one strikeout through seven games (eight at-bats).
TOP CANADIANS IN THE MINORS
The Tampa Bay Rays selected the contract of Navan, Ont., native Erik Bedard Sunday, promoting him from triple-A [erik bedard] Durham after Alex Cobb was put on the DL with a strained oblique.
Bedard, who started one game for the Bulls, striking out five and allowing one run in four innings, is scheduled to make his first major league start of the season Thursday against the Yankees in St. Petersburg.
Bedard, 35, was 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA last year with the Houston Astros. Through 11 big league seasons, the lefty is 67-76 with a 3.94 ERA.
NOTES: RHP Dylan Rheault (Garson, Ont.) earned his second win of the season Monday for the single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. Rheault pitched 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings in a 9-2 victory over Hagerstown. Fellow Canadian Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC) started for the Suns, taking his first loss of the season. ... Infielder Pete Orr (Richmond Hill, Ont.) hit his first home run of the year for Milwaukee’s triple-A club, the Nashville Sounds, on Sunday.
ThrowinSmoke is Melissa Couto‘s weekly notes column on the Blue Jays, the major leagues and all that that entails plus a peak at Canadians as well.
- Follow Melissa Couto on Twitter @ThrowinSmoke