SARASOTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie officially pulled out of the World Baseball Classic on Thursday afternoon because of a strained left rib cage.
Lawrie sustained the injury while fielding a ball at third base during Team Canada's exhibition game against the Reds on Wednesday night.
The Blue Jays appear to have narrowly avoided a serious setback, as Lawrie is expected to be out for only two to three weeks. The club expects him to be ready for Opening Day.
"He has a mild strain [and will miss] two to three weeks, on the conservative side," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "It could be less than that; hopefully, it's two weeks, but right now, based on that, you would expect him to be ready for Opening Day."
Anthopoulos appeared relatively calm and relaxed when dealing with the media at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, but his heart likely skipped a beat late Wednesday night when he was informed of Lawrie's departure from Team Canada's game.
Lawrie suffered a similar injury last season and missed more than a month of action before eventually returning on Sept. 7 and finishing the season without any setbacks.
But there are at least a couple of differences between last year's injury and the most recent one. Last year's strain occurred on the right side of Lawrie's body, while this one is on the left side. Lawrie also knew better than to play through the pain this time around.
It's possible that Lawrie is becoming smarter with his body. The native of Langley, British Columbia, aggravated the injury last year by continuing to play, but this time, he shut things down right after feeling the twinge in his side.
"Last year, I remember it happened, and he was like, 'Oh, I just need a day or two; I'll play. I'll play through it,'" Anthopoulos said. "He didn't realize -- he didn't know what it was. Having gone through the experience, it was 10 times worse last year, and he missed about six weeks, or something. The fact that it's mild, that he caught it early, means he shouldn't miss too much time."
The Blue Jays find themselves in the dangerous position of having sent nine players -- including Lawrie -- to the World Baseball Classic. The list of names includes the likes of Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia.
The worst thing that could possibly happen to a team with aspirations of reaching the postseason is to lose some key contributors because of injuries at an international tournament. It's one thing to lose guys when they're on your own watch, but to see them go down while playing for someone else is a different situation entirely.
Anthopoulos, though, quickly dismissed any talk that the Classic is to blame for this particular incident.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the tournament," Anthopoulos said. "Playing in a game, it could happen to anybody. I think it would have occurred here; I really do. I understand that it's news. I think the good news is that it doesn't look like it'll be serious at all."
Lawrie will remain with Team Canada for the next couple of days before flying back to the Blue Jays' Minor League complex in Dunedin, Fla., on Monday. He'll undergo further tests, and a rehab schedule will be created under the watchful eye of Toronto's medical staff.
The Blue Jays have a couple of options if Lawrie suffers any type of setback and becomes unavailable for the start of the regular season. Infielder Maicer Izturis could shift from second to third base, but the more likely scenario would see veteran Mark DeRosa take over the bulk of the duties.
DeRosa has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries during the past several years, but he appears healthy, with the exception of a minor back issue earlier in camp. The 38-year-old was signed to serve as Lawrie's primary backup and will receive a promotion if there are any delays.
"Izzie could play there, but that's probably Mark's role," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We can also put him over at first on any given day. He's having a good camp. He looks good. The key for him is health. He's had a little bit of everything.
"Brett's a huge part of this team, but if we need to cover for him for a while, we've got people who can catch it and pitch in a little bit offensively."
That would be the worst-case scenario for the Blue Jays, who are counting on Lawrie to be a major contributor to the club this season. During 2012, Lawrie's sophomore season, he went through some ups and downs but still managed to hit .273 while recording 11 homers and 48 RBIs in 125 games.
Lawrie also provides well-above-average defense at third base and gives Toronto the option of being aggressive with a defensive shift by being able to handle grounders on the right side of the diamond as well.
But the hope is that Lawrie's injury won't linger like last year's did. All indications suggest his issue is minor and remains a short-term problem.
"We got the word this morning that the doctors feel that it is about on his 10th rib," Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt said in Arizona. "He doesn't think it's very severe. But any type of injury like that, if you continue to play, you could aggravate it and make it worse.
"That's the last thing in the world we want to do. It's a young man that loves playing the game. He desperately wanted to play in this tournament, but for his career, the right decision was made to withdraw him, let him go get some treatments and hopefully get that taken care of before Opening Day with the Jays."