Jose Bautista tries to avoid Florida during the summer. Unless the Toronto Blue Jays are playing the Tampa Bay Rays, he'd rather avoid the state. Florida in the summer means he's rehabbing from an injury and no baseball player likes spending the heart of the season away from his team working on regaining his timing at the plate in simulated games.
The arrival to Buffalo was a step in the right direction -- literally -- as he works his way back to Toronto from a toe injury which had him sidelined since June 17. He played seven innings in right field for the Bisons Friday night. Batting third, he went 0 for 3 with a strike out, fly out to shallow center and a ground out to third. Overall his movement looked good as did pushing off from the batter's box to run down the first-base line. He also had good movement in right field, having to fight the Coca-Cola Field wind.
"It's one step closer," Bautista said after the game. "Felt pretty good. I don’t have any pain or anything like that. Encouraging stuff today. Wish I could have contributed a little more but their guy," Gwinnett starter Rob Whalen "is pretty good. He had a little movement on the ball that I really couldn’t figure out. Hats off to him."
He had one dicey moment in right field. In the first inning he ran back to play a ball as if it were going to deep right field, but instead the wind took it toward shallow center where Dalton Pompey made the catch.
"It’s windy out there so it’s a good challenge for me having to move side to side on high fly balls like that, especially that first one," Bautista said. "Luckily Pompey knows the field and the wind pretty good because I was no where near it. The wind is howling here. I thought the ball was going in a completely different direction so I’m glad he bailed me out."
Before the game, he met with about two dozen reporters, noting that his toe is not 100 percent. When pressed, he joked, "I don’t know it’s pretty tough to put a percentage on it but if you want to say something maybe 83.9 percent."
It may not be 100 percent but Bautista said he is definitely ready to return to the Blue Jays, which is good since Toronto manager John Gibbons told reporters he expected Bautista to lead-off for the Jays on Monday.
"Everything is pretty good," Bautista said. "Obviously not 100 percent but I don’t think anybody really plays at 100 percent in the big leagues anymore these days. It’s long season. ... It’s defintely in playing condition. It’s just getting reps now and getting up there and fine-tuning the vision and the swing so I can step in and contribute right away."
He will get more reps with the Bisons on Saturday as he is scheduled to play the entire game as the designated hitter and he hopes to do something he has yet to do in rehab -- get on base.
"It's going to be more at-bats and hopefully get to run the bases a little bit," Bautista said. "I haven't gotten to do that yet because the game in Dunedin I hit a home run and then I got out twice so hopefully I get to pass that test tomorrow and run the bases. Sometimes when you come back from an injury and you feel a little tightness and soreness it's more the body overprotecting itself because it's shy; you haven't done it in a while. It's just getting over that timidness."
Bautista received a big reaction from the crowd each time he was at-bat and in turn he was impressed with the Buffalo fans.
"It seems like there's a passionate fan base here," he said. "I love that they come out and support the team and it seems like they love baseball. ... It seems like there's a great sports support in this town and it was encouraging to see not only for this team but they came out and supported me more than I expected so it was pretty cool."
And the support goes both ways. Bautista may be in Buffalo to get reps but he takes contributing to the team and trying to win seriously.
"This is competitive baseball as well," Bautista said. "I'm trying to help this team win games. I'm not going to come here and waste pitches or at-bats. I know these opportunities don't come every day for some of these guys. I can’t disrespect that in a sense and come in here and not do my job and pull my own weight. I'm definitely going to have a good approach at the plate. That's what I need to work on anyway."