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Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion nearing return for Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Troy Tulowitzki and Edwin Encarnacion inched closer to returning from injuries Thursday, meaning the Toronto Blue Jays could finally get their projected Opening Day lineup on the field for the first time all spring in the next several days.

Tulowitzki was feeling better after suffering bruises on two knuckles on his right hand, incurred when he was hit by a Bartolo Colon pitch Wednesday. The Blue Jays shortstop will take swings in the batting cage Friday and, if he feels OK, "might play" Friday night, manager John Gibbons said.

"That's big. He's the key guy on our team, I think," Gibbons said. "He was really the key guy when we turned it around last year."

Meanwhile, Gibbons said Encarnacion is taking batting practice and will finally play "in a couple of days." The first baseman/DH has yet to play in a game this spring, first because of an abscessed tooth and then an oblique injury. Gibbons wouldn't specify when or where Encarnacion would return to the lineup but, barring a setback, he's expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Also, Marco Estrada, the team's projected No. 3 starter, will pitch Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies as he continues to make strides after battling a sore back for most of the spring.

The club still isn't certain if Estrada, who pitched two innings Sunday in his first spring outing, will be ready to start the season. Gibbons said it will depend on his final two spring starts.

"In his last start down here [next week], he'll get to the low 70s in pitches," Gibbons said. "Then we'll look at it and say, 'You know what, if he needs another [spring] start, we can juggle our rotation at the beginning of the season and give him one more down here in the minor leagues or something and then fit him in.' But we'll just kind of gauge that off his next couple."

Because of off days on April 7 and 11, before and after their first home series against the Boston Red Sox, the Blue Jays can delay using a fifth starter until the second week in April.

Despite all their injuries, the Blue Jays are 15-4-2 this spring and have averaged nearly six runs a game.