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Reyes of Old: Toronto shortstop Jose Reyes healthy and in top form for Jays

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TORONTO - If the eye-catching smile doesn't get you, the electric play on the basepaths will.

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes gets people's attention with his unique brand of baseball. He's a dynamo with great range in the field and track star speed.

And over the last week or two, he finally looks like the Reyes of old.

The three-time all-star, one of the key pieces in a November 2012 blockbuster trade with Miami, was hampered by injury problems in his first season in Toronto. It was more of the same earlier this year as a tight hamstring kept him out of the lineup for a few weeks.

Once he returned, it took some time for Reyes to find his rhythm. The leadoff hitter has found it now and his play is a big reason why the Blue Jays have moved to the top of the American League East division standings.

"He makes us that much better," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "He's really the catalyst because he's up at the top of the lineup."

A revitalized starting rotation and homer-happy lineup are two big reasons why the Blue Jays are flying high. But Reyes has provided the powerful Toronto offence with a real edge since his return.

With impressive bat skills and a constant threat to run, Reyes offers a nice contrast to the big swingers like Melky Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista who usually follow him in the order. Pitchers have a hard time concentrating on the plate with a speedster like Reyes on base.

"He's so capable of stirring things up," said Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. "He's one of those catalysts. There's a few real catalytic players in the game and he's one of them."

Reyes, who had three hits in Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Rays, had an 11-game hitting streak end a night later. He had his first three-steal game as a Blue Jay last weekend and wowed the Rogers Centre crowd by scoring from second base on a groundout.

"He's one of those guys that's hard to take your eye off of when you're watching a baseball game," said Toronto second baseman Steve Tolleson. "He's able to do so many things offensively and defensively. Defensively he's able to play a little bit deeper than most shortstops because he has a tremendous arm and he has the speed to close in on balls that he needs to.

"He's in an elite group when it comes to that. He's been a lot of fun to watch."

However, Reyes isn't immune to the occasional hiccup in the field. He made a throwing error on a potential game-ending ground ball Thursday night and the Royals came back to win 8-6 in 10 innings.

He took full ownership for the miscue after the game.

"This is baseball, sometimes mistakes are going to happen," Reyes said. "I just have to learn from it."

Despite the occasional negative, the native of Santiago, Dominican Republic brings plenty of positives to the diamond.

In a game earlier this week, Reyes dropped a soft bunt down in his first at-bat. He accelerated like a shot and seemed to be halfway down the first-base line by the time the pitcher left the mound to retrieve the ball before conceding the single.

When the next batter belted one off the wall, Reyes was quickly in full flight and scored with a head-first slide. It's the kind of get-your-jersey-dirty, fast-paced style that fans and teammates love.

"The last few weeks my leg feels good," Reyes said. "It's good to play pain-free. I don't have to worry about anything. Before, four or five weeks ago, I still had a little concern with my hamstring being 100 per cent.

"But right now it's 110 per cent."

Reyes, 30, who won a batting title with the New York Mets in 2011, has seen his average rise as his comfort level returned. Entering the game against the Royals, he has reached base safely in 24 of his last 25 games.

The three-time National League stolen base leader (2005-'07) has also swiped 11 bags over the last 25 games entering Thursday's matchup. His well-rounded game is a big reason why Toronto's offence is so feared.

"When they made the trade and brought him in last year, I think that's what everybody kind of envisioned," Gibbons said. "He's been banged up a little bit since he's been here but now he's healthy.

"What he's doing now is really what he's done his whole career and so I think people are just really getting a look at it."

Reyes also brings an infectious personality to the ballpark and is usually the first one out of the dugout to congratulate his teammates.

More than anything, he has the ability to put the Blue Jays in a position to manufacture runs. Whether through stolen bases, sacrifices or just aggressive base-running, Reyes can often secure that extra base and create more scoring opportunities.

"I'm capable of doing a lot of stuff," Reyes said. "People (have) seen (over) the last few weeks what I'm able to do on the field."

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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