x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Jose Bautista: a portent of power that has amazed

Everyone thought Toronto overpaid for Jose Bautista's 2010 efforts. Not so - Bautista is leading almost every batting category in the AL so far this season.

Experts said Toronto overpaid to keep Jose Bautista, who hit 54 home runs last season, but so far he has proven them wrong.
Experts said Toronto overpaid to keep Jose Bautista, who hit 54 home runs last season, but so far he has proven them wrong.

When Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays hit a major league-leading 54 homers last year - more than three times the number he had ever hit in a season before - there was, naturally, some scepticism. The question was asked: Did Bautista have some help from performance-enhancing drugs?

Bautista tired of the inquiries, but understood them. It did seem curious that this journeyman, now with his fifth organisation, was suddenly cranking homers at such a prolific pace.

Then, when the Blue Jays signed him to a five-year, US$65 million (Dh239m) deal last winter, there were different questions: Had the Jays overpaid based on one year? Was Bautista capable of having another season like 2010?

So far, Bautista has answered any doubts. He is leading the American League in virtually every significant offensive category, including on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs, with 16.

"It does amaze me, too," Bautista told The Boston Globe. "Like last year, to look back? Geez, I hit 54 home runs. That's not easy to do. I couldn't believe it myself. But I was lucky to come here and get the opportunity and make the changes I needed to make."

Bautista made some changes in his swing late in the 2009 season. He adjusted his timing mechanism at the plate, putting himself in better position to hit balls squarely. Ever since, he has been driving balls all over - and often out of - ballparks.

Now Bautista is paying another price for success: Pitchers are afraid to pitch to him.

It did not help that the Jays lost Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and other established hitters from their roster a year ago. Now, with younger hitters surrounding him in the Toronto line-up, opponents aren't about to let Bautista beat them.

He is averaging more than a walk per game, which boosts his on-base percentage but makes it difficult to do what he does best: hit home runs. The Jays are paying him to hit the ball hard, but that is tough to do when pitchers will not throw him many strikes.

So Bautista waits and chooses his spots.

"Everybody pitches me the same, it seems: hard, up and in," Bautista said. "I need to be patient and I have been more patient this year than I was last year. I need to get the pitcher in a better hitting count, so I can get a pitch to hit."

It is the ultimate compliment to a hitter, though sometimes frustrating. But for someone who did not have his breakthrough season until age 29 or get any long-term security until 30, Bautista is accustomed to waiting.

This week in the MLB

Players of the week

• Adrian Gonzalez, Boston. Gonzalez took a little time to get going with his new team. But he seems locked in now, with five homers in four games and 15 RBI over eight games.

• Justin Turner, New York Mets. Turner is getting playing time at second base and making the most of his chance. In six games, Turner had four multi-hit games while knocking in 10 runs.

Teams of the week

• Boston. Finally, the Red Sox are playing as they were expected. It started with a three-game sweep of the Yankees in New York, then continued with three straight last at-bat victories over Detroit.

• New York Mets. Between their shaky on-field prospects and the controversy surrounding their ownership, the Mets were supposed to be a bad joke. Then they went 6-2 and reached .500 after 44 games.

Dud of the week

• Jorge Posada, New York Yankees. Posada, above, was insulted that he was listed ninth in the Yankees’ batting order last weekend. So he told manager Joe Girardi that he would not able to play. Then he insisted his sit-down strike was the result of back spasms, and not, as was obvious to everyone else, wounded pride.

Series of the week

• Florida at San Francisco, Tuesday-Thursday. The Giants are clinging to a slim lead in the NL West and the Marlins are hot on the heels of Philadelphia in the East. Both feature the best young starting rotations in baseball.

• Oakland at Los Angeles-Anaheim, Monday-Wednesday. These teams are jockeying to see who will make a run at defending AL champion Texas.