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Jays tinker with Encarnacion's lineup protection

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- Protecting Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup is getting more complicated for Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.

Encarnacion's club-record 16 home runs in May made the lineup spot after him an important part of Gibbons' routine. The manager studies past performances against the opposing starter carefully, trying to ensure he has the best possible option behind Encarnacion. The aim is to make it more difficult to pitch around the slugger.

During last weekend's four-game series against Kansas City, Gibbons used three different players behind his first baseman -- third baseman Juan Francisco (twice), designated hitter Adam Lind and second baseman Brett Lawrie. In the series opener at Detroit on Tuesday, Lind protected Encarnacion with Lawrie and Francisco in the next two slots.

Gibbons went with Lind because Francisco struck out in each of his previous three at-bats against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez.

Gibbons believes the juggling act can work because he has solid options.

"Oh yeah, I think so," he said Tuesday before the Blue Jays' 5-3 win over the Tigers. "We've got the guys who can do it, too. It's just a matter of who it's going to be."

There is some variety among the players batting ahead of Encarnacion, who went 1-for-3 Tuesday. Normally, Encarnacion bats directly after right fielder Jose Bautista, but against certain right-handers, Gibbons will split up his two top sluggers with the left-handed Lind in between.

The lineup tinkering is a function of the way opposing managers now view Encarnacion. Royals manager Ned Yost was content to walk Encarnacion rather than give him pitches to hit, though Encarnacion homered off a mistake pitch by reliever Aaron Crow on Sunday.

"It wasn't until the last couple of games in Kansas City that they really started to pound the ball in on him, and if they walked him, they walked him," Gibbons said. "Crow tried to go in and left it out over the plate, and (Encarnacion) took him deep."
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