Bautista ready for new sea­son after in­jury-plagued 2016

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY MELISSA COUTO

Jose Bautista has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a player who com­petes with pas­sion and in­ten­sity.

But he doesn’t want that to be mis­taken for hav­ing a chip on his shoul­der.

The all-star slug­ger signed a one-year, US$18-mil­lion deal this off-sea­son with Toronto after turn­ing down the club’s $17-mil­lion qual­i­fy­ing of­fer at the end of the sea­son. Bautista was look­ing to se­cure a hefty raise and long-term deal in his first crack at the free-agent mar­ket.

While he didn’t get it, the 36-year-old right-fielder isn’t us­ing that as mo­ti­va­tion this sea­son.

“I think I come out here ev­ery year with the same mentality and same de­sire to help my team win games and be the best player I can be,’’ Bautista said after work­ing out at Toronto’s spring-train­ing fa­cil­ity Fri­day. “I have my things that mo­ti­vate me but I can’t say that prov­ing peo­ple wrong is one of them in one way or an­other.

“There’s al­ways peo­ple that need to be proven wrong in ev­ery play­ers’ sit­u­a­tion so if you fo­cus on that you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to get a lit­tle dis­tracted. I’ve had the same things that have mo­ti­vated me since I was a lit­tle boy play­ing, those are the same things that mo­ti­vate me to­day.’’

Bautista hit 22 homers and drove in 69 runs over 116 games last sea­son. He landed on the dis­abled list twice — first in June with a left toe in­jury, then in Au­gust with a sprained left knee.

Bautista, who hit 35 or more homers in four of the seven sea­sons prior to 2016, said his two stints on the DL were the re­sult of freak in­juries. He doesn’t ex­pect to have any lin­ger­ing ef­fects from ei­ther in 2017.

“I was try­ing to make base­ball plays both times,’’ he said. “One, I ran into a wall and the other (time) my cleat got caught in the turf. I can’t ex­plain it. I don’t know. Any other day in July, I could have been run­ning to first base and tripped over my­self and hurt my­self worse.

“Those kinds of things are bound to hap­pen on the field and it’s just un­for­tu­nate that it hap­pened to me. But I don’t think I could have done any­thing dif­fer­ently.’’

Bautista ar­rived at the Dunedin camp Thurs­day, a day be­fore po­si­tion play­ers were sched­uled to re­port.

He walked through the club­house greet­ing team­mates with bear hugs, pat­ting Cana­dian Rus­sell Martin’s hair and jok­ing around with re­liever Joe Bi­agini be­fore mak­ing his way into the weight room.

Short­stop Troy Tu­low­itzki, who also showed up early for camp, was among those ex­cited by Bautista’s re­turn.

“You don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen when a guy gets to test the mar­ket,’’ Tu­low­itzki said. “You want good things for him, you want him to go some- where where he’s go­ing to be happy, ob­vi­ously some­where where he makes a lot of money, but the bot­tom line is you want him back.

“So for Jose to be back, you know how much he means to the city, how much he means to the Blue Jays. He’s def­i­nitely a leader on this team and we wel­come him back. He makes us a bet­ter ball club.’’

Bautista, a Blue Jay since 2008, be­came the face of the fran­chise un­til other vet­er­ans like Tu­low­itzki, Martin and Josh Don­ald­son — all known as pas­sion­ate play­ers them­selves — came on board to share that lead­er­ship role.

Man­ager John Gib­bons be­lieves hav­ing so many strong per­son­al­i­ties has ben­e­fited his team.

“They’re very sim­i­lar, they’re all very in­tense and great competitors,’’ Gib­bons said. ``I think the more guys like that you have the bet­ter you’re go­ing to be and I think we’ve proven that the last cou­ple years.’’

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista speaks with re­porters dur­ing base­ball spring train­ing in Dunedin, Fla., on Fri­day.

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