Indians' Encarnacion 'can't wait' to face Blue Jays
Cleveland Indians' Edwin Encarnacion runs the bases after hitting a solo home run off Houston Astros starting pitcher Mike Fiers during the second inning of a baseball game, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A month later than thousands of Blue Jays fans would have preferred to see him back under the dome, Edwin Encarnacion will make his return to the Rogers Centre on Monday night.
So what should the former Jays slugger expect when his Cleveland Indians face the Jays in the first of a three-game series? As long as he leaves his mythical home-run parrot back in Ohio, probably a nice, warm reception.
“I can’t wait for the game,” Encarnacion told cleveland.com. “The fans used to like me there, but I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be ready for anything.”
On one hand, the Jays have been struggling and sure could use the big EE bat. On the other, Encarnacion has had a familiar slow start with the Indians and is struggling at the plate. So far this season, Encarnacion has just five home runs and 11 RBI and is carrying a .217 average.
The man Jays management ostensibly signed to replace him, Kendrys Morales, has an edge in all three statistical categories with six homers, 20 RBI and a .246 average.
Encarnacion, of course, was wildly popular with the Jays over the past seven years and was a huge story all off-season. After rejecting a four-year $80-million offer to remain in Toronto, the Jays signed Morales while Encarnacion began a long wait before eventually signing a three-year, $60-million deal with the Indians.
"I think it was the decision I needed to make because it was the best for me,” said Encarnacion, who had at least 30 homers in each of his final five years in a Toronto uniform. “My goal is to play this game for a few more years and try to win the World Series. It was a baseball decision for me.
“It was tough to leave. I’d been there for a long time, but it’s a business.”
One never knows how fans will respond to a returning athlete, but it would be somewhat surprising if Encarnacion wasn’t well received by Toronto fans, who went bonkers last fall with his walk-off homer in the AL wildcard playoff win over Baltimore.
“I would hope he’d get a good reception for all he did up there,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters. “Then I hope he does something to break their hearts.”
For a Monday night, it’s a big game on many levels for the Jays, who face the reigning American League champs, who defeated them in the ALCS last fall.
The struggling Jays have played just 12 home games, as opposed to 19 on the road, and begin a nine-game home stand, their longest of the season so far. And manager John Gibbons's team is starting to warm up after the disastrous 2-11 start, going 5-3 in their past eight.
The early ace of the Jays pitching staff, Marcus Stroman, will face the Indians' Trevor Bauer.