Long before he emerged on the Major League Baseball scene as an elite player, Jose Bautista had been humbled by the game, uncertain where he would fit in and what his future might hold.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ star outfielder has been sharing those experiences this season with his teammates, a clear indication that Bautista is accepting more of a leadership role as the Canadian club continues its heady romp in the American League.
“I don’t want to make a big deal out of it,” Bautista said before the Blue Jays (39-27) played the Minnesota Twins (30-33) at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night. “I don’t know which guys have made what comments. But I’ve always been very vocal, on the bench and to younger guys, just speak from my experiences and the way I deal with things.
“Hopefully that can trigger some thoughts into those particular players, and just help them stay ready going into a situation, going into an at-bat.”
Last week in Detroit, Bautista provided a few reassuring words to pitcher Drew Hutchison when the 23-year-old was beating himself up in the dugout after getting tagged for two hits in the second inning. Hutchison responded by holding the Tigers to just one more hit over the next five innings in a game the Blue Jays would go on to win 5-3.
In the first game against the Twins on Monday, it was Bautista huddling with Kevin Pillar in the batting cage just before game time, reminding a skittish 24-year-old of the importance of preparation, even for a part-time player.
Pillar did not get into the game until the ninth inning, when he drove in the winning run in a 5-4 walk-off victory. Afterward he credited Bautista’s pep talk with helping solidify his mindset for his key at-bat.
“I don’t feel like I’m superior or more knowledgeable or better,” Bautista said about his role as clubhouse leader. “I’m not coaching anybody. I know my role on this team, too, but when it’s a teammate and you can help because you’ve been in those shoes, you can talk about stuff.”
There were no words of encouragement that could help the Blue Jays on Tuesday night as the Twins shut out the Blue Jays 4-0 to even the series at one game apiece.
The loss was the Blue Jays third in their past four outings following a six-game win streak that helped establish their hold on top of the AL East.
An all-star the past four seasons who is steamrolling toward his fifth straight selection, Bautista experienced a humble beginning to his MLB career.
In 2004, he kicked around with five organizations and ended the season in Pittsburgh with the Pirates, who really didn’t know what to do with him over the next several years.
In August, 2008, the Pirates traded Bautista to the Blue Jays, with whom he finally found his footing, leading the majors in home runs in both 2010 and 2011.
Bautista said when he was trying to establish himself as a front-line player, there were plenty of veterans around to provide advice on the general aspects of the game. But when it came to gleaning information on the best survival techniques for a young role player such as himself at the time, Bautista said the well was rather dry.
Bautista said that he is not alone as a Blue Jays mentor, mentioning the names of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion as other clubhouse leaders.
He said the fact that the team is one year older, and maybe wiser, than the 2013 outfit that fell short of expectations, might also have something to do with why the whole team is pulling in the same direction this year.
“I think each person is more knowledgeable of others capabilities, more realistic with the expectations,” Bautista said. “I think last year people didn’t know what to expect exactly with other players. Expectations might have been a little unrealistic, sometimes on the higher end and sometimes on the lower end.”
So far this season, “I think everybody is more in tune with each other’s capabilities,” Bautista said.
As they did in Monday’s first game of the three-game set, the Blue Jays fell behind 2-0 after Brian Dozier knocked a two-run home run off J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays’ starter.
But there would be no late-inning heroics on this night.
Happ did not have his best outing, lasting just 3 2/3-innings and allowing four Minnesota runs off six hits; his record dipped to 5-3.
The Blue Jays could not generate anything against Minnesota starter Kevin Correia (3-7), who snuffed out the Toronto offence on just six hits over six innings of work.
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