Emotions in motion over Blue Jays' Munenori Kawasaki

Munenori Kawasaki has proved to be immensely popular as Jose Reyes' fill-in for the Blue Jays, but...

Munenori Kawasaki has proved to be immensely popular as Jose Reyes' fill-in for the Blue Jays, but could be odd man out once the all-star returns in a few days. (TIM SHARP/Reuters)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

TORONTO - Toronto Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle would make a pretty good straight man.

Asked before Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles what a player like shortstop Jose Reyes would do for the Jays, Buehrle replied with a straight face: “Screw us up, because we’re on a roll right now.”

He was kidding, obviously. Like everyone in the Jays clubhouse, Buehrle is pumped about the prospect of the four-time all-star rejoining the team. Reyes has been on the disabled list since April 12 as a result of a severe ankle sprain and is on a final rehab assignment with triple-A Buffalo this weekend and could join the Jays as early as Monday in Tampa Bay.

“We all realized that if he ever went down, we’re in trouble,” said Buehrle of Reyes. “That’s the type of impact player he is. Not just his defence and not just his offence, but he does everything. So to get him back is going to be big.

“But one thing that sucks is (what happens with Munenori) Kawasaki.”

The Jays haven’t announced exactly what will happen roster-wise when Reyes returns. But Kawasaki — who was brought in as Reyes’ replacement and has been solid on defence and even come through with some clutch performances at the plate ­— could well get optioned to Buffalo, though manager John Gibbons won’t speculate on that. Kawasaki’s stats don’t exactly cry MLB all-star, but the idea of his being sent down has the Jays clubhouse in a bit of a flux, especially after his performance Friday night against the Orioles, when he hit a single in the fifth with two out to score Maicer Izturis and then smacked a homer to right in the seventh — his first major-league dinger — to tie the game 6-6. Afterwards, he came out of the dugout, bowed to the crowd, and received a huge ovation. As Buehrle says, Kawasaki has become a fan favourite and a tremendous teammate.

“One of the better ones I’ve had,” said Buehrle. “I can’t say enough about what he’s done. He’s the most popular .200, .210 hitter I’ve seen in my life. Just like Reyes, he’s always yelling, he’s on the top of the dugout — top step when he’s not playing — giving the position guys high-fives when they’re coming off. They didn’t even make a play, but he’s giving them a high-five. He’s always talking in Japanese and he’s ... I don’t know, he’s just brought a lot to the team.”

Gibbons agreed.

“There’s something about the guy, he brings out the best in everybody. He’s got ... what’s the word Ruts?” Gibbons asked Toronto Sun baseball writer Mike Rutsey.

“Charisma?” Rutsey replied.

“Gravitas?” Gibbons offered, surprising the scribes with his knowledge of the Roman virtues. “But you know what I mean. He brings something.”

Another (bald, shorter) writer suggested Kawasaki has a certain “je ne sais quoi”.

“That sounded Japanese,” said Gibbons, with a laugh.

“Je ne sais quoi — a certain something,” offered a broadcast guy.

Whatever it is, Kawasaki apparently has it, and his teammates and the Jays fans get it. His numbers with the Jays haven’t been overwhelming (.229, 17 RBIs), but his enthusiasm and his sense of playfulness — whether it’s bowing to his teammates or launching into a Japanese version of O Canada while signing autographs — has been contagious and in the few short weeks he’s been in Toronto, Kawasaki’s certainly endeared himself to this city.

“It’s just fun to have him around,” said Buehrle. “I heard some of the stuff he did in Seattle. Some guys said when he wasn’t playing, he’d be in the dugout dancing before games. I joke to the guys here that when he’s yelling in Japanese and pumping everybody up, he’s probably saying: “You dumb Americans, you #$%%^&* idiots.’ He’s probably telling us we’re pieces of crap, but we’re all like: “Ah, that’s awesome.’”

“Just the way he roots guys on and the energy he brings, it’s hard to explain,” added Buehrle.

With the 7-6 walkoff win over the Orioles on Friday, the Jays have now won nine straight. But don’t kid yourself, there’s not a guy in the clubhouse who doesn’t want Reyes back as quickly as possible, who doesn’t think that this team has a much better chance to win with the 2011 National League batting champ in the lineup, even if that means losing Kawasaki.

“He’s the most exciting player I’ve ever played with,” said first baseman Adam Lind, when asked about Reyes. “You really saw how much we struggled after he got hurt.”

Meanwhile, as the Jays prepared for the Orioles, Reyes was down in Buffalo preparing to face the Durham Bulls, going 1-for-4 with a double and scoring a run.

“I’m glad that I’m here, so close to go to the big leagues again,” Reyes told reporters after arriving at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field. “I’m so happy.”

But even Reyes seemed a bit down about the possibility of Kawasaki leaving town when he gets called up.

“He’s funny. He brings a lot of energy,” said Reyes.

“Everybody loves Kawa. I love Kawa.”


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