There’s work for Jose Bautista to get done here this weekend but mostly it’s about staying healthy. For those of you coming Saturday night to see Darth Vader & Co., Bautista says he’s not much of a fan but maybe he’ll get inspired to become one. And he knows that teammate R.A. Dickey is a huge aficionado who still has his Bisons jerseys from those games.
There wasn’t much to see from Bautista on Friday. He got some swings in and went 0 for 3. About the only notable item was that he ran hard to first base on a chopper in the sixth and didn’t seem to show any ill effects from the turf toe issues that have been dogging him for more than a month.
Of course, there’s always a lot going on at the ballpark and big leaguers notice, too. The Bisons feted wrestling legends of the Aud prior to the game and there was a bit of an “incident” during the ceremonial first pitches.
“I’ve never seen anybody get clotheslined on the mound before,” Bautista joked after leaving the game. “So that was pretty interesting.”
Things are about to get very interesting in Toronto when Bautista returns on Monday, according to the current plan. The Blue Jays are in the thick of the AL East race and in a soft portion of their schedule until next weekend’s showdown with Baltimore that takes them into the trade deadline.
And they need Bautista’s big bat to return with him.
In 2014, remember, Bautista was among the players were who openly agitated when then-GM Alex Anthopoulos didn’t add to the team at the deadline. At the time, the Blue Jays were in the second wild-card and 2½ games out in the AL East. But David Price went to Detroit, Jon Lester went to Oakland, Baltimore got reliever Andrew Miller and the Yankees added infielders Martin Prado and Stephen Drew.
“We’re in a position where we’re in striking distance with not many games left and we could’ve used a little boost, just like some of the other teams went out and got some additions,” Bautista said to Blue Jays beat writers on deadline day that year in Houston. “... Everybody does that at the deadline, figures out a way to improve the roster. We just somehow didn’t.”
Anthopoulos, of course, got the job done last year when he acquired Price himself and added Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe and Latroy Hawkins as the Jays finally ended their 22-year postseason drought.
But the Canadian boy wonder didn’t stick around this year when Mark Shapiro was brought in from Cleveland to be the team president. And Shapiro’s hand-picked GM, Ross Atkins, came from Tribe Town with him and will be under the microscope at this year’s deadline.
That’s particularly true from inside the clubhouse. Bautista took the high road when asked Friday how curious he is to see Atkins at work, saying his return to Toronto along with fellow rehabber Ryan Goins should help the Jays.
“I’ve been focused completely on my rehab,” Bautista said. “I’ve been watching our games but I haven’t tried to pay attention too much to trades and stuff that’s been going on. All I know is we’ve been playing great. ... I don’t know what other injection of talent any other major-league team would get of this caliber so it looks like we’re in pretty good shape.”
That was a politically correct answer. The Jays are known to be looking to add another bat like Jay Bruce or Carlos Beltran. There’s talk about San Diego pitcher Andrew Cashner or even Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, although that talk might be going away if the Yankees keep winning and decide not to be deadline sellers. They might need to add to the bullpen too if they opt to keep Aaron Sanchez in the rotation and not move him back to a set-up relief role.
The biggest point about Bautista’s addition is that he needs to start producing. Joey Bats hasn’t done much bat-flipping this season, batting just .230 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs in 65 games. His timing couldn’t be worse.
He’s a free agent after the season. So is teammate Edwin Encarnacion, who is leading the major leagues in RBIs.
Bautista is trying to ward off the hands of Father Time as he’ll be 36 on Oct. 19, while he hopes the Blue Jays are involved in another ALCS. How many guys that age get longterm, big-money deals?
But Bautista was a late bloomer, not breaking into the big leagues until age 25 and not reaching stardom in Toronto until 2010 at age 29. And he’s a fitness and food freak.
“In a lot of ways I envy him because I really like Buffalo chicken and cheeseburgers,” said Chris Colabello, a teammate of Bautista’s last season in Toronto. “I was never a guy that was into eating healthy and working out, I like to go hit for four hours. He says I’m crazy when I go hit for four hours. It’s part of what makes him who he is.”
Asked by a Toronto Star reporter if he feels any urgency about the next two months, Bautista simply issued a one-word “no.” When a similar question came from Buffalo reporters a couple of minutes earlier, Bautista was in deflect mode.
“I play baseball and part of playing baseball is helping your team win,” he said. “I’m a big believer that if you do that, everything will take care of itself.”
We’re about to find out what kind of potential swan song Bautista will have in Toronto.