While other players were prepping for this season at spring training Darius Leonard Jersey , 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 Jaire Alexander Color Rush Jersey , 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, 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 Josh Jackson Color Rush Jersey , 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,

Jordan Zimmermann looked like a $110 million pitcher in his last start. The Detroit Tigers hope the oft-injured Zimmermann can produce like that on a regular basis.

Zimmermann, who will start for the Tigers against the Texas Rangers on Friday in Detroit, has been a huge disappointment since signing a five-year, $110 million free-agent contract in November 2015. His first two seasons with the club were marred by injuries and ineffectiveness.

He took another trip to the disabled list in May because of a shoulder impingement. He has made three starts since his return and was sharp at Toronto on Sunday, holding the Blue Jays to one run on five hits in seven innings. He didn’t issue a walk while striking out six.

His curveball and slider neutralized Toronto’s lineup as the Tigers ended an 11-game losing streak.

“My off-speed stuff was really good (Sunday),” Zimmermann said afterward. “I think the slider’s coming back.”

If Zimmermann (3-0, 3.91 ERA) can string together some quality outings, he could help the Tigers on two fronts. He could provide stability to a rotation that hasn’t gone deep into games often enough. He could also enhance his trade value Taven Bryan Color Rush Jersey , which would provide financial relief to a rebuilding franchise.

He lost his only career start against the Rangers despite holding them to three runs in eight innings in 2016.

Detroit’s roster has been in a state of flux since losing first baseman Miguel Cabrera to a season-ending biceps injury last month. Center fielder Leonys Martin and closer Shane Greene are on the disabled list, and Opening Day second baseman Dixon Machado has been designated for assignment.

Niko Goodrum, who has taken over second base, hit a solo homer Thursday but Texas took the opener of the series 7-5. The Tigers have lost 14 of their last 16 games.

Zimmermann, 32, is 13 years younger than his mound opponent in the second game of the four-game series. Bartolo Colon (5-5, 4.76) will make his 16th start this season for Texas.

Colon lasted just long enough to collect the victory in his last appearance, when he gave up three runs in five innings to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.

With another victory Friday, he will surpass Dennis Martinez for the most wins by a Latin American pitcher. They are tied at 245.

“Tying Dennis Martinez, it’s such an accomplishment,” Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre told after Colon’s last outing. “It takes him a long time, 45 years, but it’s nice that he was able to get that, and hopefully he can break it in his next start.”

Colon is 9-10 with a 5.20 ERA in 29 career appearances (28 starts) against Detroit.

Texas designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo did not play in the series opener, so his on-base streak remains at 44 games. He is dealing with tightness in his right quadriceps.

“I don’t want to push it,” Choo told the Dallas Morning News. “Do this until the All-Star break, and the rest will help.”

Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman picked up the slack Thursday, delivering two-run homers as the Rangers built a seven-run lead and held off Detroit’s late surge.


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