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Jays sluggers

Birds of a feather not the same Add to ...

The folks who know this stuff say there is no similarity between Edwin Encarnacion’s first-half power surge at 29, and Jose Bautista’s breakout season in 2010 at the same age.

Unless, you’re talking about getting in to an opposing pitcher’s head.

There is no evidence to suggest Bautista’s jump to 54 from 13 home runs was due to anything but a mechanical change that helped maximize the quickness of his hips.

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Heading into Friday’s first game of a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, Encarnacion has 17 home runs – the same total as all of last season, when he didn’t hit his first until May 29 – and Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell says it’s more a product of a revamped approach to the craft then mechanics.

Encarnacion had one of four homers hit off Baltimore Orioles starter Jason Hammel on Wednesday, as the Blue Jays capped off a three-game sweep with a 4-1 win. All four were on fastballs. All were solo, meaning there were no base-runners to relay signs. But Hammel took note of the some of the swings Blue Jays hitters took at his off-speed pitches, saying: “I don’t think you can take swings like that, not knowing they’re coming.”

This will, of course, resurrect fond memories of the in-depth investigative report last August by ESPN, spurred on by four “anonymous” relievers from one team (cough – Chicago White Sox – cough) in which it was suggested Jays hitters were being aided by a “man in white” sitting in the bleachers at the Rogers Centre.

Accusing the Blue Jays of stealing signs is old hat. With the Red Sox in town for the weekend, it is time to think back fondly to their erstwhile pitching coach and manager Joe Kerrigan, who will go to his grave believing in the existence of a centre-field camera linked to a TV set in the Blue Jays dugout or runway that aided the club’s hitters.

Truth is, nobody knows what to make of this current edition of the Blue Jays, or for that matter the American League East Division.

Everybody has injuries. Everybody has issues. At this stage, the best approach is the one chosen by Farrell: Fifteen wins a month keeps you in the postseason conversation regardless of whether the division stays balanced or one team starts to run away.

As for Encarnacion?

Bautista’s single-season high before 2010 was 16 homers (in 117 games). He had two other 15-homer seasons, and 59 in his career before his breakout. Encarnacion, on the other hand, hit 26 for the Cincinnati Reds in 2008, and had 117 in his career before this season.

“There’s no similarities,” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “Edwin always had great, raw power. They are two completely different guys.

“We’ve said that, as an organization, we felt Edwin could hit 30 homers or more for the past several years, but we never projected Bautista to have the kind of power he has now. Encarnacion has shown power throughout his career both in the majors and minors. Bautista showed some, but nothing like Edwin.”

Encarnacion said he’s keeping two hands on the bat instead of removing the top hand, while also shortening his swing and as a result he is staying inside the ball.

“Mostly, I’ve also stopped swinging at [the pitcher’s]pitch, and started swinging only at my pitch,” he said.

This city – all of us – misread Encarnacion for the longest time. We never took the time to look past the sleepy-eyed, puffy guy to see a player wholly capable of holding teammates accountable (ask shortstop Yunel Escobar) while spending time in the video room.

Farrell is correct when he says that it can take five or six years for a player to figure out himself, and the manager says he now sees in Encarnacion a hitter “whose plan you can see unfolding.”

Thank goodness for that, because through the first two months, the AL East has kept most of its 2012 plans under wraps.

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