It’s taken until the middle of May, but Jose Bautista is finally swinging the bat like Jose Bautista.
How long this lasts, or whether it indicates his early struggles are permanently behind him is unclear, but for now the Toronto Blue Jays are just happy their right fielder is back to the business of bashing baseballs. On Saturday, the veteran slugger went deep for the third time in four games — this time on a mammoth three-run blast to centre that was the difference in a 7-2 win over the Seattle Mariners.
Following a pair of singles from Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera in the seventh, Bautista stepped to the plate against right-hander Nick Vincent — who brought a 1.62 ERA into the game. Bautista took a high slider he didn’t like, fouled another off and then connected loudly with a fastball up and down the pipe. The ball got out in a hurry, making its home in the aptly-named flight deck.
The blast would be all the Blue Jays needed as it broke open a tightly-contested 2-2 game. The club added another pair in the eighth on a Kevin Pillar sacrifice fly and a double steal that scored Devon Travis. Although there was a momentary scare for Toronto when Leonel Campos allowed two runners on in his attempt to mop up the ninth, John Gibbons then turned to Osuna to shut the door.
In Bautista’s first 145 trips to the plate, he managed to put just two balls over the wall while swinging through more than his share of pitches and looking just a little bit off throughout. In his last 17 at-bats, he’s crushed three home runs and brought some needed thunder to a batting order largely composed of role players at this point.
Until Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin return to the Blue Jays lineup on a regular basis, Bautista will be looked upon as the focal point of this offence. Until recently, that appeared to be a pretty scary proposition for the club given his struggles. In a remarkably short period of time, that outlook has shifted.
Because Bautista’s game is based so much on the violent swings his elite bat speed affords him, when his timing is off things can look particularly grisly. A Bautista who can’t find his timing isn’t fun to watch because of the multitude of popups and weak fly balls his swing can generate, should the moving parts fail to align. For now, at least, it seems like everything is in order — great news for a depleted offence that can really go as far as Bautista takes them.
That said, his primarily partner in power, Kendrys Morales, also looked good Saturday, showing himself to be in good form in his return the lineup from a hamstring issue. After taking some rather absurd booing from the more deplorable denizens of Rogers Centre for not running out groundouts in his first two plate appearances, Morales gave himself the opportunity to jog by putting one over the fence in his sixth.
The shot was especially impressive as it came off Mariners reliever Tony Zych, who had only allowed one home run in his 41-inning MLB career coming into the game. Morales took a 96-mph 1-0 fastball from the big right-hander and made a 427-foot deposit over the right-field wall to tie the game 2-2.
On the mound, Marcus Stroman had an effective, if atypical outing. He gave the Blue Jays six strong innings of two-run ball, but he didn’t exactly look like himself. It’s rare for the right-hander to induce only five ground balls and still be effective, but Stroman got the job done with strikeouts, piling up nine. Stroman did allow eight hits, but seven of them were singles and few of them were lasers.
In a game that was closer than the final score indicated, the biggest obstacle for the Blue Jays wasn’t starter Ryan Weber — who left in the fourth with shoulder tightness — or the relievers that followed him. Nor was it one of the Mariners’ slugging duo of Nelson Cruz or Kyle Seager. Instead, their biggest bugaboo was fleet-footed centre fielder Jarrod Dyson.
Not only did Dyson go 2-for-2 with two walks, a stolen base, a run scored, and an RBI, he put on his best Mantracker impression in the outfield, getting on his horse and apprehending balls all over Rogers Centre. By the time the afternoon was over the former Kansas City Royal had recorded seven outs — including a couple of potential gappers off the bat of Darwin Barney.
The Blue Jays have now won their fourth straight game, and third consecutive series, making them 10-4 in their last 14 games. With Aaron Sanchez returning to the mound on Sunday, the club figures to be in good position to sweep the Mariners who will run out southpaw Ariel Mirando, who is currently toting a 5.20 ERA and matching 5.20 FIP.