TORONTO -- Top prospect Brett Lawrie will start a rehab assignment with Class A Dunedin on Thursday night, batting third and playing third base, after missing more than a month with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand.
Lawrie struck out looking in his first at-bat, grounded out in his second and singled in a run in his third time up before being lifted in the top of the seventh inning.
The 21-year-old will remain with Dunedin throughout the weekend before being re-evaluated on Monday to determine the next step the organization wants to take with him. Lawrie could stay in Dunedin for more seasoning or return to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he was playing before the injury.
But despite the team's desire to have Lawrie reach the Majors sometime this season, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said there is zero chance that he would be joining the Blue Jays after his stint in Dunedin.
"One million percent -- not even an option," Anthopoulos said. "He has to get back to Vegas, has to get his swing back, has to get his timing back."
Lawrie sustained the injury on May 31, when he was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat of a game against the Tucson Sidewinders. At the time it was believed that Lawrie was only a day or two away from being called up, but the injury threw a wrench into those plans.
Lawrie was hitting .354 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 52 games prior to the injury. He had made substantial strides in his discipline and patience at the plate since the team asked him to address those areas after he struck out 23 times and drew just four walks in 22 games in April.
The native of Langley, British Columbia, made immediate adjustments, and in 30 games in May, he struck out 17 times and drew 14 walks.
"The numbers in April were very good," Anthopoulos said. "The numbers in May were that much better because he was much more selective at the plate.
"We need to continue to see that on-base percentage and that walk rate be where it was in the month of May."
The Blue Jays purposely took their time with Lawrie's rehab in order to ensure a full recovery. And if Lawrie can come back and continue to put up impressive numbers, he may reach the Majors sooner rather than later.
The team is counting on the blue-chip prospect to join the Blue Jays at some point this summer and stay for the remainder of the season.
"We fully anticipate Brett getting here," manager John Farrell said. "His last four days have been very good. His last four days have been very good. His progression was, by design, held slow early on, but now that he's back to live batting practice, he's advancing very quickly."
Janssen getting closer to returning to Toronto
TORONTO -- Casey Janssen is at least three Minor League outings away from returning to the Blue Jays as he continues to recover from a sore right forearm.
Janssen has already pitched twice for Double-A New Hampshire, tossing scoreless innings on July 9 and July 11. He will throw another inning on Thursday night before resting on Friday and pitching on back-to-back days on Saturday and Sunday.
The two outings this weekend will serve as a litmus test to determine whether the 29-year-old is ready to return to the Majors.
"He has thrown the ball well in his first two outings," manager John Farrell said. "Considering the nature of the injury ... we wanted to be sure that we built in one back-to-back outing to answer that question before coming back."
If all goes well this weekend, Janssen would be in line to return on Tuesday for the start of a three-game series against the Mariners at Rogers Centre. But on Thursday the team was noncommittal as to when he would return.
"I would expect that to be the case, but I have to leave it open, because you never know what's going to happen," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said of a Tuesday return. "But Casey was one of the better relievers at the time he went down, so I certainly can't see how he wouldn't help this team by being back up here."
Janssen was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings before his injury.
Rauch taking over as Blue Jays' closer
TORONTO -- Jon Rauch will serve as the club's closer for the time being as the team tries to give incumbent Frank Francisco some time to sort out his game.
Francisco leads the team in saves with 10 but has given up five earned runs over his last three outings, including a blown save against the Phillies on July 1 and a disastrous outing against the Indians on July 7, when he was tagged for three earned runs and did not retire a batter.
But the team has faith that Francisco can find his groove, as the two rough outings sandwiched a strong appearance in Boston on July 4, when he struck out the side for a save.
"I think it's important, as we did with Frankie earlier on, to get some outings under his belt to continue to build some momentum with him," manager John Farrell said on Thursday. "That's not to say that he won't close for us at some point, but I think for tonight and the time being that's the way we'll look to set up."
Rauch, meanwhile, has seven saves on the year and has closed in the past, serving in that role for Minnesota for part of the 2010 season. For the Blue Jays this year, he is 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings.
The 32-year-old entered the July 9 game against the Indians with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, but surrendered a leadoff single and a double in blowing his third save of the season. It was the only save opportunity he had in more than a month since his last save, on June 7 against the Royals.
The Blue Jays have set their rotation coming out of the All-Star break, with Jo-Jo Reyes starting the team's first game on Thursday night, followed by Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Carlos Villanueva and Brett Cecil.
Romero would have started on Thursday instead of Reyes, but he was invited to the All-Star Game, which spurred the team to push him back to Saturday.
The Blue Jays and the Jays Care Foundation launched the 23rd season of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League on Thursday.
The program is run in association with Toronto Community Housing (TCH) and teaches baseball skills to 800 children from TCH neighborhoods. Participants receive instruction from many of the Blue Jays, including honorary division captains Romero, John McDonald, Aaron Hill, Rajai Davis and J.P. Arencibia.
Each child receives a hat, water bottle, glove, T-shirt and backpack full of school supplies.
Jose Bautista is the first player since Mark McGwire in 1997 and 1998 to lead the Majors in home runs at the All-Star Break in two consecutive seasons. Bautista currently leads the Majors, with 31.
Arden Zwelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.