It’s easy, really. There’s no big mechanical fix needed or total breakdown of his swing.
All Emilio Bonifacio needs to do is remember he’s the guy whom Anibal Sanchez talked up when Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos spoke to Sanchez last winter, early in the free-agent process.
Talks with Sanchez went nowhere. He wasn’t in a hurry; the Blue Jays were. Other pitching options presented themselves and both sides moved on.
Sanchez re-signed with the Detroit Tigers but his glowing words about Bonifacio – a former Miami Marlins teammate – stuck with Anthopoulos when he began dealing with the Marlins on what would become that 12-player deal.
It was about Bonifacio’s makeup. His boundless energy and sunny disposition.
On Thursday, mired in an offensive funk that has exacerbated the issues created by Jose Reyes injury, hitting coach Chad Mottola pulled him aside during batting practice and mimicked a batting stance. He tensed all the muscles in his shoulder, almost becoming a hunchback. The swing was butt ugly. Then, he relaxed, allowing a smooth swing.
“He’s stiff and tense,” Mottola explained later. “When he’s loose up at the plate, he’s quicker. I think he’s trying too hard to be the typical player, instead of just going ahead and putting the ball in play. He needs to be more of a disruptive force. He needs to create stuff instead of being the typical ballplayer – slap the ball the other way; force errors.
“Bonny’s doing a lot of stuff for the first time,” Mottola said. “He’s on artificial turf. He’s come to a new team with a new role. Now, you’re expected to play every day. So you want to prove to everybody that you should have been an everyday player all along. Then, you add in the expectations on our team? You can see where a lot of guys are having trouble finding themselves.”
Outwardly, this is still the same Bonifacio everybody saw in spring training. Reyes is hurt, but in shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, Bonifacio has found something of a kindred spirit. The man who helped make the lo viste signal part of clubhouse culture – the v-shaped salute with one finger above the left eye and another below that loosely translated from Spanish means: see that? – has eagerly glommed on to Kawasaki’s penchant for bowing.
Thursday, after Kawasaki started a 6-4-3 double play against the Chicago White Sox, he looked for Bonifacio in centre field. Finding him, he bowed and flashed the lo viste salute. It was returned in kind and in the fifth inning, Kawasaki’s bouncer was misplayed by Adam Dunn, allowing Bonifacio to score from third base after a two-base throwing error by pitcher Chris Sale, who hit Bonifacio with a pitch to lead off the inning.
It brought a smile to the face of Jays manager John Gibbons, who has talked about the need for his team to scrap a little more and get the odd cheap hit. “That was a good, solid at bat,” he said. “Infield in? Put the ball in play.”
In the meantime, while Kawasaki (who hasn’t struck out in 18 plate appearances) might have been at a loss looking for Bonifacio after that double-play, the truth is Gibbons has had difficulty hiding him on the field. When Anthopoulos finishes building this lineup, don’t be surprised if he’s utilized as designated hitter. On Thursday, Colby Rasmus came in for defence in the eighth.
“We need to get Bonny hitting,” Gibbons said of the switch-hitter, who drew his second walk of the season in the second inning. “He’s a big part of this team. Right now, he’s chasing too much out of the zone. We are a free-swinging team, and we need to realize that other teams are going to approach us that way.”
Mottola took another swig of water as the White Sox took the field for batting practice.
In his first year as major-league hitting coach, Mottola has been handed a plateful. Been quite a ride so far, he was told.
“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to getting the first month out of the way,” he said.
Not an isolated feeling, that.