While other players were prepping for this season at spring training Saints Game Jerseys , Jose Bautista was on his own.
A six-time All-Star without a big league job, Bautista remained eager to catch on somewhere and knew he needed to be resourceful. So to stay in game shape, the 37-year-old slugger spent his days back home in Florida hopping from gym workouts to local ballfields.
Sometimes he ended up at the University of Tampa, or Tampa Catholic High School. Wherever he could find an empty diamond to hit and do defensive drills.
”I was trying to mimic somewhat the same program,” said Bautista, who has quickly become a rare bright spot for the New York Mets this year. ”I mean, it wasn’t the easiest thing.”
His agent helped him scrounge up batting-practice pitchers to simulate game situations as best they could. High school kids, college players, other free agents looking for work.
Bautista figures he got about 30 ”at-bats” or so in April, when the regular season was already underway for everyone else. All the while, the former Toronto Blue Jays star waited for a new opportunity.
”Yeah, different fields. Whatever was available and whatever people could get to,” he said.
Not exactly an ideal way to sharpen up for Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. But after struggling through a 12-game stint with the Atlanta Braves in May, mostly at third base, Joey Bats has hardly missed a beat since arriving in New York. He had a .944 OPS over 35 games going into Sunday and had already batted in every spot for the Mets besides ninth.
”He never backed off,” teammate and close friend Jose Reyes said last week. ”He always was working.”
Next up, a nice reward.
On deck this week is the first trip for Bautista back to Toronto, where he blossomed into one of baseball’s best power hitters with the Blue Jays from 2008-17. The struggling Mets play interleague games at Rogers Centre on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Needless to say, he’s excited.
”I’m trying not to think about it,” Bautista said last week. ”I’m trying not to dwell on it too much.”
”Obviously, I played there for 10 years. I consider it one of my homes away from home,” he added. ”I’m just going to let it come and enjoy it when it gets here.”
Reyes, also Bautista’s teammate in Toronto from 2013-15, said last week the outfielder had been staying at his house in New York for the past few days and the two talked about the upcoming games in Toronto.
Reyes figures the Blue Jays might have a video tribute planned, but he’s sure Bautista will receive a standing ovation after helping the team end a 22-year playoff drought and reach consecutive AL Championship Series in 2015 and 2016.
Bautista, still sporting a neatly trimmed beard, acknowledged he anticipates a warm reception.
”I don’t expect anything else from Canadian fans. They’re top-notch, a class act,” he said. ”We had a pretty good run there and I had a successful career in my years there. … I did enjoy my time in Toronto greatly and it’s going to be great to be back.”
Bautista hit 54 home runs for the Blue Jays in 2010 and led the majors again with 43 the following season. He finished in the top four in AL MVP voting both years.
And of course, who could ever forget his gigantic bat flip after connecting for a decisive homer in the 2015 playoffs against Texas?
As he approached free agency, Bautista’s numbers dropped off in 2016. Toronto brought him back on a one-year contract for $18 million last season Giants Game Jerseys , but he slumped to a .203 batting average with 23 homers, 65 RBIs and 170 strikeouts, and the Blue Jays moved on.
”As a player, we understand that this is a business,” Reyes said. ”He wanted to stay there, but I don’t know. When you build that fan base and the people love you and stuff and you (are) successful in one place, you don’t want to go someplace else. But it comes a time in baseball. It just happens. Yeah, he understands that.”
Two days after he was released by Atlanta, the Mets signed Bautista on May 22 for the $545,000 major league minimum to provide a right-handed bat in the outfield following injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares.
Bautista stepped off a plane and right into the starting lineup, hitting a double in his first at-bat, just as he did with the Braves. This time, though, he hasn’t stopped producing even though everything around him keeps falling apart.
With the help of 24 walks in 105 plate appearances, Bautista began Sunday with a .438 on-base percentage for the last-place Mets. He’d reached base safely in 15 straight games and even played some solid defense.
”It’s definitely impressive and we are in awe of him,” 25-year-old outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. ”He’s a great veteran presence. He’s got a lot of wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the game. … I think just that preparation, that work ethic and that eagle eye he’s got, it’s been a great combination.”
Now playing every day in a familiar corner outfield spot after right fielder Jay Bruce went on the disabled list, too, Bautista began Sunday hitting .266 for the Mets with three homers, 10 doubles and 13 RBIs.
”A dangerous wild card,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before a game against New York last week. ”A man that wanted to play, felt he could play and was going to do what it took necessary to put himself in a position to play. He stayed active, he stayed ready, his agent reached out to every club. I mean, we got a call. That hey, As Boston Red Sox players donned red, white and blue outfits to celebrate a 3-0 victory on the 4th of July that completed a sweep, the Washington Nationals held a players-only meeting to discuss a fifth consecutive loss and the precarious spot they’re now in beyond the halfway point of the season.
Done in again by small mistakes that get magnified in a stretch such as this, the preseason NL East favorites lost for the 17th time in 22 games Wednesday to fall below .500 for the first time this late in the year since being 60-61 on Aug. 21 Jets Game Jerseys , 2015.
This time, it was a throwing error by Adam Eaton on a sacrifice fly in foul territory and a wild pitch by Ryan Madson (2-4) in a disastrous seventh inning that dropped the Nationals to 42-43 and kept them from making up ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
”We’re a good team and we’re going to go out there and compete with anybody,” said Bryce Harper, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
”We just have to keep grinding and keep doing our thing and good things will happen. We’ve never been in this position before, and I think it’s an exciting time for us. In years past, we’ve won the division by a lot of games. We’re able to be behind right now and I’m excited to get there and test it.”
Powered by struggling outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.’s two RBIs on the sac fly and a ninth-inning double and a strong start by Eduardo Rodriguez (10-3), the Red Sox moved 30 games over .500 under rookie manager Alex Cora.
”We know where we’re at, but we still have a long ways to go,” Cora said. ”(The Nationals) have a good team. They’ll figure it out. I’ve seen that before from them. They struggle a little bit and they’ll pick it up. They’ll be in the hunt.”
Bradley, who came into the game hitting .201, worked full counts on each of his at-bats that produced a run. He was hoping the ball Eaton caught deep in foul territory down the third-base line would go out of play so he could see another pitch but will gladly take the RBIs – the second time this season he has had two in a game without a home run.
”Just had to continue to battle and finally get a pitch I could handle,” Bradley said. ”Any time you can help the team win, it’s a positive. It’s good, any way you can do it.”
Rodriguez struck out six in six scoreless innings, mixing his change-up and slider in more often to keep Nationals hitters off-balance.
The Red Sox now have the first pair of 10-game winners in the majors with Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, whose double off Max Scherzer helped win them the first game of this series.
The Nationals have lost four series in a row. This freefall led to the postgame meeting Wednesday afternoon.
”It’s `Let’s get this thing going,”’ Nationals infielder Trea Turner said. ”We all know we’re capable of playing better baseball. It’s time we do it. It’s do or die now.”
Nationals starter Erick Fedde left the game one batter into the second inning with right shoulder stiffness and gave way to left-hander Matt Grace, who allowed just one hit and struck out four in four innings of relief. Manager Davey Martinez said Fedde was scheduled to have an MRI.
”We watched him throw and his (velocity) was down,” Martinez said. ”He was out there and wanted to keep pitching. I went out there and they told me he was stiff and I said `No, we’re not going to do that to you.”’
Red Sox: Manager Alex Cora said LHP Drew Pomeranz (biceps tendinitis) would most likely make a second rehab start early next week. … RHP Tyler Thornburg was activated from the disabled list after rehabbing from shoulder surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome last June.
Nationals: 1B Matt Adams was activated after missing 16 games with a broken left index finger. To clear room, LHP Tim Collins was designated for assignment. … C Matt Wieters (left hamstring strain) is doing some catching, but still hasn’t done enough running to be ready to return.
Red Sox: After a day off, LHP Chris Sale (8-4, 2.41 ERA) brings a 15-inning scoreless streak into his Friday start at Kansas City, which is expected to start Jason Hammel (2-10, 5.56).
Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 2.63) will look to last at least six innings to spare a heavily used bullpen when Washington faces RHP Pablo Lopez (1-0, 3.00) to open a four-game series against the Miami Marlins.