Jose Bautista knows what it is like to be a nomad on the baseball diamond, a player without a permanent home wondering from day to day if his spot might be in the outfield, the infield or even on the bench.
Now in his 11th season in Major League Baseball, the team leader of the Toronto Blue Jays did not really solidify his favoured spot in right field until 2011 – the year after he swatted 54 home runs to establish himself as one of the game’s top power brokers.
Even during that idyllic 2010 campaign, when Bautista led the Majors in home runs, he really had no sure place to hang his cap defensively. That year, Bautista jockeyed between third base, where he started 45 games, and right field, where he saw action in another 113 contests.
And from that perspective, Bautista believes that Brett Lawrie, the Blue Jays’ third baseman who is the somewhat reluctant lab rat in a new experiment at second, really has nothing to fear.
“From what I’ve seen, most of [Lawrie’s] experience has been at third and he does a remarkable job there,” Bautista said before the Blue Jays opened a three-game set at Rogers Centre against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night. “I think he’s a Gold Glove-calibre third baseman. I haven’t asked him how he feels about second. If I were to answer for him I would assume he would rather stay at third.
“I’m sure he understands the makeup of this team and how we can get the best nine guys out on the field. I think he’s willing to sacrifice himself a little bit for the sake of the team, even though it might mean an adjustment for him, make it a little bit more difficult for him to prepare on a day-to-day basis.”
For the 12th time during his tenure with the Blue Jays and for the fourth time in the past two weeks, Lawrie was required to abandon his favoured spot at third and make his way a couple stops over to second, where he started Tuesday’s game.
The move is to accommodate the big lefty bat of Juan Francisco, who has been lighting it up offensively for Toronto since he was summoned from Triple-A last month.
Third base is the spot that the bulky Francisco is most comfortable.
So the Blue Jays deep thinkers have decided that, for the time being at least, Lawrie will be making regular forays over to second when a tough right-handed pitcher is starting for the opposition, in order to get Francisco into the lineup at third.
Tuesday night the arrangement proved extremely beneficial as Francisco homered and doubled, driving in two runs as the Blue Jays (20-20) hung on for a 5-4 victory over the Indians (18-21).
For Francisco, the home run was his sixth in 22 games this season, with 10 of his 22 hits going to extra bases.
When he first learned about what was in store in Pittsburgh earlier this month, Lawrie balked, proclaiming himself a third baseman, first and foremost, to reporters.
Since then, no doubt with just a little encouragement from Blue Jays front-office types, Lawrie has toned down the rhetoric somewhat.
“I don’t think about it all that much,” Lawrie said on Monday. “It’s just a position, going over there and trying to help the boys.”
Francisco’s first hit was a solo home run bomb to the second deck in right field in the fifth inning that provided Toronto with a 2-1 lead.
In the three-run Toronto sixth, Adam Lind doubled home the first two runs while Francisco chipped in with a two-bagger that scored another run and boosted Toronto’s lead to 5-1.
Franciso is now hitting .293 on the year.
It seemed a comfortable enough lead for R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays starter, who was cruising along into the seventh when he allowed consecutive singles by Asdrubal Cabrera and then David Murphy, whose hard-hit grounder ate Lawrie up for an error.
A walk to Yan Gomes loaded the bases and Dickey’s night was done when he plunked Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch that forced in Cleveland’s second run.
Aaron Loup came in after that and, with none out, did well to clean up Dickey’s mess and get out of the inning with the Blue Jays clinging to a 5-4 advantage.
In the eighth, with Brett Cecil on the mound and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana perched at second base with two out, Gomes laced a single to Melky Cabrera in left field.
Cabrera then made a perfect throw home to catcher Jose Thole who tagged out the sliding Santana to preserve Toronto’s one run lead.
Dickey got the win, improving to 4-3 on the year, allowing four Cleveland runs off five hits in six-plus innings.
Casey Janssen, just back out of sick bay, made his second straight appearance in the ninth inning for Toronto to earn his first save of the season.