TORONTO — A reflective J.P. Arencibia says he has been his own worst enemy in the past.
"A lot of my struggles were from doubts and trying to do too many things," the former Blue Jay told reporters Friday upon his return to Rogers Centre with the Texas Rangers.
The 28-year-old Arencibia also admitted he had heaped pressure on himself by worrying about all the permutations of what might happen when he stepped into the batting box.
Now he has come to the realization that simple is best, it seems.
"God gave me abilities to do something special on the field. What are those?" he said. "So I can say ‘All right, I need to work on those things. And not worry about everything else.’ And when I get into the plate, think of one pitch at the time. Not ‘hey, if I take this pitch, is it going to affect this pitch?"’
Arencibia endured a horror show of a 2013 season with Toronto, hitting .194 with 148 strikeouts in 474 at-bats. He did hit 21 homers and 54 RBIs.
He said it was a year of pressure, his mind going a mile a minute.
"Fortunately I was able to put the ball in play at times but I wasn’t good," he said.
"I was fighting myself," he added. "I was in my own way. That was the biggest thing. I had to go down (to the minors) and kind of get out of my own way."
It seems to be working. He slammed a three-run homer off R.A. Dickey in the seventh inning Friday.
Arencibia signed with Texas as a free agent, hitting .133 with a .182 on-base percentage in 20 games before being sent to the triple-A Round Rock Express in mid-May. He was recalled Thursday.
With three other catchers (Robinson Chirinos, Chris Giminez and Geovany Soto) on the Rangers active roster, Arencibia has been getting a crash course in playing first base. He hit .279 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in triple-A.
He got the start Friday at first base, becoming the eighth Ranger this season to start there. Asked if he was a first baseman or catcher now, he said that wasn’t his decision.
"Obviously they know I can catch and they have a lot of catchers on the roster. So right now if playing first is best for the team, that’s what I’m doing. I’ll work hard to be the best first baseman I can be."
The stint in the minors helped slow the game down, he said.
"I 100 per cent needed it," Arencibia said. "It was something that was necessary. I went back and had to iron something out and be who I can be.
"That was really the main thing — changing my mentality and really understanding myself … Obviously you don’t want to be down there, and at the beginning it was tougher but more and more as I was down there, I realized there was good purpose behind it. And I was proud of myself to get past that and bounce back."
Arencibia said his struggle was to be himself.
"A lot of times I tried to be somebody I wasn’t. I tried to be maybe what baseball or whatever I thought needed to do statistically to be a better player. And by doing that, by not being myself, I went backwards.
"I’m the player I can be (now). I went back to triple-A and really tried to be that."
That mindset included being aggressive at the plate "and looking to do damage as opposed to worrying about swinging at a pitch in the first or making this mistake or that mistake."
Arencibia was warmly received by some of the Rogers Centre staff before the game, with hugs and handshakes.
He said he was not worried about how the crowd might react.
"I know the people that cared about me and the people I impacted," he said. "Whatever may be the reaction, good or bad, I wish everybody well. Obviously I can’t control that stuff."
He received a smattering of boos when the Rangers starting lineup was announced. The fans were far more vocal at his first at-bat — a strikeout that turned the boos to cheers.
Arencibia was far more cutting in Texas in May when quizzed by the Toronto Star about his time in Toronto.
"I learned the media controls a lot of things and the only question that you guys were writing in the off-season was what they were going to do behind the plate, when obviously the pitching was something that needed to be addressed," he told the newspaper. "But I was the only question because I was the villain of the team."
Asked Friday whether he regretted such comments, he said: "I’m not really here to talk about any of that stuff. We all said what we needed to say. I’m excited to be back in the major leagues."
Arencibia’s life has also changed off the baseball field. In June, he married Band Perry singer Kimberly Perry in Greeneville, Tenn.