Baseball Notes

Timing was right for Bautista’s breakthrough

By Nick Cafardo
October 31, 2010

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Jose Bautista, what do you do for an encore after hitting 54 homers for the Blue Jays in one of the great breakthrough seasons in major league history?

“It’s hard to predict,’’ said Bautista from his Florida home. “I might hit 50 again. I think it will have to do a lot with the adjustments pitchers make against me and what I do to make adjustments against them.

“It will have to do with how healthy I can stay. I don’t expect a big tail-off. Some of it will have to do with the shape of the lineup. I think if I can stay in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, that’s going to help me as far as having guys on base and having a lot of good hitters around me.’’

The affable right fielder/third baseman made the leap from platoon player into one of the most feared hitters in baseball this season. And he did it with an abdominal injury he heard “pop’’ in late April but played with the entire season before having it surgically repaired. Tomorrow he begins his rehab.

Bautista gives credit to former manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy for changing his approach at the plate — making him a more aggressive hitter and starting his swing a hair earlier. He is hoping that new manager John Farrell, with whom he had a “15- to 20-minute’’ phone conversation, will keep Murphy aboard.

“As a hitting group, we all loved Murphy,’’ Bautista said. “It wasn’t only me who had success, and some guys did go backwards, but we all had a different routine with Murph.

“He’s a great communicator and he respects us as players. His human skills are off the charts. He lets everybody have their own personalities, but if he sees we’re doing something wrong, he’ll point it out.

“I believe they’re still talking, and hopefully something can be worked out.’’

Change always makes players feel uneasy. New manager. New hitting coach. Bautista knows Farrell will want to make the Jays a more patient team, improve their on-base percentage. But it was that swing-baby-swing philosophy that transformed him into a run-producing machine.

In addition to his team-record 54 homers — he was the only major leaguer to hit 50 this year — Bautista knocked in 124 runs to go along with a .260 average, .995 OPS, and 100 walks.

Bautista, 30, once used a leg-kick device to get himself ready to address the ball when the pitcher began his motion. Once he got his foot down, his hands were ready to swing and the timing seemed perfect. Previously he would be a fraction of a second off on his timing and pop balls up, now he is driving them. That’s one of the things Murphy taught him.

“I always believed that I would be a good everyday player in the major leagues,’’ said Bautista. “I wanted to be an All-Star, but it was hard to predict how that was going to turn out 10 years ago when I was in college.’’

At Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. — where he played after the Reds withdrew an offer for a six-figure signing bonus — the Dominican-born Bautista put on legendary displays of power. He once hit a ball so hard it broke the left-field fence.

He was the guy with the best arm, too, gunning out runners from right field. He also was a pitcher, mostly a reliever, but he once pitched a complete game with 12 strikeouts.

Bautista was with the Pirates, Orioles, Rays, Royals, Mets, and Pirates again before the Jays acquired him in an August 2008 trade.

After Bautista started working with Murphy in 2009, he hit 10 home runs that September. He was clearly the Jays’ best player in spring training this year, and then continued once the season started.

But the more homers he hit, the more skeptical some became. Bautista was hurt by speculation that he might be using performance-enhancing drugs. He took his lumps as columnists raised the issue.

“Maybe I wasn’t loud enough about it, but it was disappointing to hear those things,’’ he said. “People say things and write things without proof.

“I’ve been tested since the minor leagues. I was tested five or six times this season. I did what I did with hard work and dedication to my hitting. I’ve worked hard my whole career to get to the point where I got last year. It didn’t happen overnight.

“It’s upsetting and disappointing that some people don’t think hard work and dedication allow you to have good results. It’s very unfair and it needs to stop, but it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with.’’

What is more remarkable is that Bautista played with the injury from late April.

“There was a two-week period when I first heard something pop that it really hurt,’’ he said. “It was annoying the rest of the time more than anything, but it was there.

“I can’t say that during that two-week period it prevented me from hitting more home runs, but it probably prevented me from getting my hits or extending a single into double or something like that. It was just one of those things that was there and I had to play with it and deal with it.’’

The offseason brings big decisions for Bautista and Toronto management. Do they sign him long-term at big money? Do they allow him to go to arbitration, where he surely will get a big payday?

“Right now, there are no talks about a multiyear contract, but I suppose we may hear something about that in December,’’ he said.

And then there’s the issue of a position. Bautista is one of the best right fielders in the game, with a powerful arm. But the Blue Jays have a need at third base.

“I suppose it depends on how the roster shapes up in the offseason and what they can or cannot do,’’ Bautista said. “Personally, I really enjoyed playing right field. I had a lot of assists and I think I showed other teams or at least deterred them from taking the extra base because I can throw you out.

“But I also like playing third base, too, and I’ll do what the team wants me to do. We have a great team and if our players and pitching can take the next step, we’re going to be a team that can go for the AL East title.’’


Pitching coach at top of Yankees’ to-do list

The Yankees normally don’t tolerate personal issues that affect the team, such as the one that forced pitching coach Dave Eiland to miss nearly a month of the season. So firing Eiland was the first order of offseason business for the Yankees before extending manager Joe Girardi for three years.

Eiland will likely resurface with another major league team soon or become a minor league pitching coordinator.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is adept at fixing negative situations quickly, and it appears that Triple A pitching coach Scott Aldred is the front-runner to fill the post after doing a nice job in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Some thought there might be a tug-of-war between the Red Sox and Yankees over former Athletics pitching coach Curt Young, but that has not materialized.

The name of Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson also has come up. Peterson is under contract, but the Brewers might allow a team to speak to him since they have yet to name their manager.

After a disappointing finish to the season, you know the Yankees will go all out to replenish the team. Pitcher Cliff Lee, and outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth will be names you hear linked to the Yankees, who will also look to add a bullpen piece or two.

While Lee’s wife didn’t like the way she was treated at Yankee Stadium when her husband pitched there in the ALCS, that will change if Lee ends up in pinstripes. The Rangers can afford to pay Lee, but if the World Series ends on a sour note for Texas, Lee could look toward New York.


Roberts says Bonds would be a fine coach

Dave Roberts, who has had a long relationship with Barry Bonds, said Bonds would be a fantastic hitting coach if given the opportunity.

“There’s no question he would be amazing,’’ said the Red Sox 2004 playoff hero. “People don’t understand how very positive Barry is.

“I think the perception of him is so much different than the reality of what he is as a person. I thoroughly enjoyed being his teammate in San Francisco and I find him to be one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around.’’

Bonds told reporters last week that he would like to be a hitting coach so he can share his knowledge with young hitters. He remains a tough sell for such a job — in San Francisco or anywhere else — because of the baggage he carries and the legal issues that still trail him over steroid allegations.

“Some of that stuff could be dealt with right up front,’’ Roberts said. “I think the Cardinals were able to do it successfully with Mark McGwire, and anyone hiring Barry would have to approach it the same way — get it out in the open and then forget about it and concentrate on the job.

“I think Barry has been away from the game and he realizes how much a part of the game is who he is. It’s been his whole life. When we were teammates, I’d always pick his brain about hitting and his approach.

“Though he’s one of the greatest hitters ever, there was a thought process every time he went to the plate, and that’s the kind of thing that’s so valuable to hitters.’’

Roberts, who has completed his chemotherapy and radiation to treat his non-Hodgkins lymphoma, will be the Padres’ first base coach next season, focusing on outfield defense, base stealing, and bunting.

“I’m really looking forward to coaching,’’ he said. “I think this is the first step in trying to find out where I want to go with this.’’

Roberts hasn’t ruled out being a manager someday, and his coaching experience will likely go far in determining whether that’s the path he wants to take.


Apropos of nothing
1. Stupid things you remember: When infielder Jerry Browne played for the A’s and Indians, we used to refer to him as The Governor; 2. Cody Ross has found a horseshoe, but what the heck?; 3. Hey, did you know David Ortiz wants more than one year?; 4. Jason Varitek would be a nice veteran backup for the Brewers, who need someone to mentor Jonathan Lucroy; 5. The shattering of maple bats seems to be a continuing problem, but according to a major league source, the number of instances was down some 30 percent this season from 2009.

Updates on nine
1. Matty Johnson, OF, Red Sox — The speedy center fielder, signed by scout Jared Porter, was voted Baseball America’s top independent league prospect after hitting .313 in 182 at-bats for the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League. His manager there, Phil Warren, called him “electric.’’ The Sox have spent more time in the independent leagues recently, looking for talent that may have slipped through the cracks or needs more development. Johnson, who spent two years at Bellevue University, is likely to start at Single A for the Sox.

2. Daniel Turpen, RHP, Red Sox — Acquired from the Giants in the Ramon Ramirez deal, Turpen hasn’t exactly gotten off to a great start for the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League. In his first four innings as a reliever, the 6-foot-4-inch righthander allowed 11 hits and 7 earned runs. The good news, according to one scout, is that Turpen, 24, has a decent arm, throws in the 94-95 range, and may be able to develop into a “one-inning-type middle reliever.’’

3. Tony Pena, bench coach, Yankees — Once the season ended for the Yankees, Pena drew some interest as a manager; the Marlins are considering him. Pena has been a very good bench coach for Joe Girardi, stepping back from his managing days and refining his in-game situational recommendations, many of which worked very well. Pena was fiery in his tenure in Kansas City, which is a good trait for a manager with a young team. Amazingly, he doesn’t seem to be a strong candidate in Pittsburgh — his original team — where he could light a fire.

4. David Price, LHP, Rays — The annual votes by the Players Association for best player and pitcher get very little attention, but they’re the indication of what players think about other players. The most interesting vote this year was for AL Pitcher of the Year: Price won, over CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez. For NL Player of the Year, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez beat out Albert Pujols and Joey Votto; Gonzalez also was voted Player of the Year for all of baseball. Josh Hamilton beat out Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera as AL Player of the Year. In the NL Pitcher of the Year vote, Roy Halladay beat out Ubaldo Jimenez and Adam Wainwright.

5. Bruce Bochy, manager, Giants — When I do my annual managerial rankings, usually around spring training, I always rank Bochy very high, and many question why. You can see now, can’t you? Bochy has a great feel for his roster and situations and being able to match up the right pitcher to the right situation. Of course, the players have to perform, but you’re not going to see a better tactical manager.

6. J.P. Ricciardi, ESPN analyst — There’s no question new Mets general manager Sandy Alderson could use someone of Ricciardi’s expertise to rebuild that team, and they are talking. Asked whether he would be joining the Mets, Ricciardi said, “Not sure yet.’’ But would he be better off joining Boston’s front office? Alderson is expected to be in New York for the next five years while Theo Epstein’s deal with the Boston ends after the 2012 season.

7. Curt Young, pitching coach, free agent — Strange how quickly it turned, from Young possibly heading to Arizona to being the prime candidate in Boston after turning down a two-year offer from the A’s. According to a major league source, the Diamondbacks were very interested and made a couple of inquiries to the A’s about him. Young has family in Arizona, but Boston is a far better job situation. The D-Backs wound up hiring Cleveland Triple A coach Charles Nagy. By all accounts, Young is a very good coach who can get the most out of younger pitchers, as he did with the A’s. The feeling is Felix Doubront could benefit from his tutelage.

8. Nolan Ryan, president, Rangers — Right before Bud Selig reiterated that sorting out the DH rule was far down his list of priorities, and that he’s always heard AL teams like it and NL teams don’t, Ryan told reporters, “I’d like to see it standardized. It’s not fair for a National League team to come into an American League park. And we have a person [Vladimir Guerrero] that we’ve gone out and got for strictly that position, as a DH. And they don’t have that because they play a different game. I’m not in agreement with that. It’s a big challenge with the Players Association because you would be taking a high-paid player off a team if you did away with the DH. So if you ask me what my preference would be, it would be to eliminate the DH.’’

9. Jesus Montero, C, Yankees — Though he had a decent year, there is still a lot of doubt as to whether he can handle a major league pitching staff. One Yankee insider feels Montero will be included in a big deal this winter and the franchise will commit to Austin Romine as the long-term catcher when Jorge Posada is through.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Jonathan Sanchez’s ERA has decreased each of the last three seasons — 5.01, 4.24, and 3.07 — as his walk totals have increased — 75, 88, and a league-leading 96 this season.’’ Also, “Carlos Pena finished with 95 hits, only 49 of which were singles.’’ . . . Happy 23d birthday, Yamaico Navarro.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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