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Notes: Hinske learns to be versatile

Notes: Hinske learns to be versatile

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TORONTO -- The Blue Jays aren't swaying from the plan. Not yet, at least.

Toronto entered the season with a two-man rotation in right field: Right-handed hitting Alex Rios will be in the lineup against left-handed pitchers and Eric Hinske, who bats from the left side, will start versus righties.

The first two games featured a different half of the platoon -- Rios in the home opener and Hinske on Wednesday. For the next four games, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons plans on sticking to the strategy. With good reason, too. Through Toronto's first six games, the team will have faced three right-handed starters and three lefties.

It's the perfect time to test the platoon, but it's also a good opportunity for Hinske and Rios to try and get off to a good start at the plate. That's the aspect of the right field situation that could ultimately break down the platoon.

"We're going to give this a go. That's our plan," said Gibbons, referring to the platoon on Wednesday. "If somebody is really hot and we're trying to win games, it may come down to that."

Hinske was in the starting lineup again on Thursday, considering that Minnesota right-hander Carlos Silva was on the mound. Hinske started his career with Toronto as a third baseman, was moved to first base in 2005, and is now playing outfield for the first time since his days in Double-A.

During Spring Training, Hinske made a smooth transition to right and he had an impressive month with the bat. In 19 games, Hinske hit .310 with six home runs. He was able to get a lot of playing time in the spring because Rios was playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

Hinske's performance during the spring didn't affect how Gibbons approached managing the platoon once the season started, though.

"You want a guy to have a good Spring Training," Gibbons said. "But it's just Spring Training. That's how you look at it."

Hinske agreed.

"He's right, spring is spring and it doesn't count," said Hinske, who went 0-for-2 on Wednesday. "So once you get here you just have to prove to them that you can go out there. That's what I'm trying to do.

"I can just worry about myself. My name being in the lineup -- that's basically up to them," he added. "I guess if I get hot, I don't know what they're going to do. But if Alex gets hot, I don't know what they'll do then, either."

On deck: If the plan going forward does indeed remain the same for Toronto, Rios will be in the lineup on Friday, when the Jays face Tampa Bay left-hander Casey Fossum.

Rios is 4-for-7 with a home run in two games so far. He had three hits in the home opener and added a single after replacing Hinske on Wednesday. This spring, Rios posted a .355 average with a homer in 11 games.

On Opening Day, Rios hit in the No. 2 spot of the order and left fielder Reed Johnson led off. Gibbons liked the production he saw from those two at the top. Combined, Rios and Johnson went 6-for-10.

"They looked great," Gibbons said. "They both were swinging it good. I like the way it gives us speed up top. I just like them up there. And Alex I think is going to drive in some runs, that gives him the chance."

When Toronto is facing a right-hander, shortstop Russ Adams serves as the lead-off hitter, Frank Catalanotto, who platoons with Johnson in left, bats second, and Hinske typically will bat in the eighth slot. Gibbons said he plans on continuing to use Johnson and Rios in the first two lineup spots versus lefties.

Day off: Gibbons tweaked with Thursday's lineup against Minnesota in order to give a couple players some rest and another a lift. Bengie Molina was given the day off from catching duties in favor of backup Jason Phillips. Lyle Overbay was given a break from playing first base and was in the lineup as the designated hitter.

Shea Hillenbrand, the primary DH, started at first base -- a move that Gibbons said could also help him offensively.

"It'll help his hitting, too," Gibbons said about Hillenbrand, who is 2-for-8 in the first two games. "Sometimes when you spend too much time on the bench, too much goes on in your mind. But he's a good fielder, too."

One and done: In the season opener, Gibbons used left-handed reliever Scott Schoeneweis for one batter -- Twins left-handed hitting catcher Joe Mauer -- in the eighth inning. Schoeneweis forced a groundout and his work was done.

Last season, Schoeneweis made 80 appearances, which was a new club record by a left-hander. He only notched 57 innings, though, as he was used primarily as a situational pitcher. This year, Toronto will probably use the southpaw in a similar manner.

"He's tough -- invaluable. You wouldn't want to [use him 80 times again], but he's durable," Gibbons said. "He hasn't shown any effects of it catching up with him.

"You don't know as the season goes on what's going to happen," he added. "Hopefully, we're in enough games. If we play the games the way we did last year -- every game was like a nail biter -- he'll be in a lot."

Burnett watch: A.J. Burnett, who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Saturday, pitched four innings in a rehabilitation start for Class A Dunedin in Clearwater, Fla., on Thursday. The right-hander threw 61 pitches and gave up one run on three hits with two walks, two strikeouts and one hit batsman.

Burnett suffered a minor elbow injury on March 18 and is scheduled to make his first start of the season against the White Sox on April 16 in Chicago.

Quotable: "You look at Alex and what he can do. If it all comes together you figure you have a premiere player. We'll see how it all plays out." -- Gibbons, on the right field situation

Coming up: Toronto left-hander Scott Downs takes on Tampa Bay lefty Fossum when the Blue Jays host the Devil Rays at 7:07 p.m. ET on Friday at Rogers Centre. Last year, Downs was 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA. He's serving temporarily as a starter until A.J. Burnett returns from the disabled list.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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