Stewart adjusting to lighter workload
Used to starting, outfielder tries to find groove in spot duty
BOSTON -- Shannon Stewart has dealt with slumps before, but he's typically had the luxury of regular playing time to sort out any issues at the plate. Trying to find a consistent swing while serving a limited role is something that is unfamiliar for the Blue Jays outfielder.
That's precisely where Stewart finds himself now, though. Circumstances have relegated Stewart to Toronto's bench and, as a result, the veteran has struggled to resemble the type of offensive player he's been throughout his career. It has been uncharted waters for Stewart.
"It's been a little tougher than I'm used to," Stewart said. "When you play every day, you get in a rhythm. If you're not in a rhythm, usually you'll find it by playing. It's tough when you're not playing on a consistent basis. It's something that I'm trying to get used to."
On Thursday, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons slotted Stewart into the lineup's seventh spot against the Red Sox, wanting to start as many right-handed hitters as possible against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Starts in left field figure to be sparse for Stewart going forward.
Entering the season, Stewart knew that he was going to split time in left with Matt Stairs. That initial situation was foreign enough for Stewart, who has appeared in at least 132 games in eight of the past 10 seasons. There was a brief moment when Stewart believed he'd be able to transition into a more frequent role.
On April 20, the Blue Jays released designated hitter Frank Thomas, meaning Stairs would receive more at-bats as a DH. That could've meant more playing time for Stewart, but Toronto subsequently recalled outfielder Adam Lind from Triple-A Syracuse to be the Jays' regular left fielder.
"I understood what the situation was going to be when I came in here," said Stewart, who signed a one-year deal with Toronto in February. "They told me what the deal was going to be, with me and Stairs out there. Then, they got rid of Frank and I thought that was going to clear up some more time, but then they called Lind up."
"It's different if you're playing two or three times a week," he added later. "If you're playing every now and then, and now we've got Lind up here, it makes it where my playing time and my at-bats are even lesser. I'm just trying to figure out how I'm going to get this thing going."
Entering Thursday's game, the 34-year-old Stewart -- a career .297 hitter -- was batting .200 with a .308 on-base percentage and a .255 slugging percentage. Stewart has just two extra-base hits among his 11 hits on the year, with no home runs and four RBIs in 18 games for the Blue Jays.
Dating back to April 14, Stewart has hit just .133 (4-for-30) over a span of nine games, entering his appearance against the Red Sox. During that time period, Stewart has seen his season average plummet to .200 from .280 -- evidence that he's struggled to adjust to his new assignment.
"That's been a factor," said Gibbons, referring to Stewart's diminished role. "He's not used to that and he's still adjusting to that. It's not an easy thing to do. He'll get it going.
"You look at it, guys in the game who are the pinch-hitting specialists, the guys who come off the bench, it's so hard to do and they're rare, the guys who do it well. Basically, that's kind of almost what he's thrown into right now."
Last season, Stewart hit .290 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in 132 games for the Oakland A's, who used him primarily as their leadoff hitter. This season with the Jays, Stewart has moved up and down the lineup, lacking a regular role in which to find an offensive rhythm.
The situation has given Stewart a new appreciation for players who have made a career out of coming off the bench.
"I need to play in order to get the timing and rhythm," he said. "This is a little tougher. I respect those guys who have this type of role. I've always been a starter. I've always played. I never really thought about it, but it's tough the way it is."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.