Bautista on 2015: ‘The talent is still here’

Jose Bautista (Steven Senne/AP)

Surviving a full season after injuries abbreviated his past two campaigns, Jose Bautista returned to form in 2014 and delivered in a big way. With 103 RBIs, 104 walks and 101 runs scored, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger was the only player in the majors to reach the century club in all three categories.

Bautista tied for sixth in the big-leagues with 35 homers, tied for ninth in RBIs, tied for fifth in runs, and was second in walks. Had the Blue Jays made the post-season he surely would have received significant MVP consideration.

Still, a point of pride for Bautista is that his numbers with men in scoring position, an impressive .309/.444/.574 clip with nine homers and 70 RBIs, are his best to date with the Blue Jays. Last year, over fewer games, he hit .298/.417/.585 in those situations, a marked improvement from 2012, .243/.387/.414; 2011, .245/.519/.436; and 2010, .246/.407/.611.

What’s better is that rather than trying to force the situation, as he’d done in the past, he worked with what pitchers gave him. If the best Bautista could do was to punch a ball to right field against a shift, he tried that, a crucial adjustment.

“It’s always something you try to focus on, just getting it done, whatever it takes, groundball, fly ball,” he says. “Sometimes we execute, sometimes we don’t.”

Bautista discussed hitting with runners in scoring position, as well as revisiting the team’s approach to offence, the season that was and the season to be during a recent interview with Sportsnet. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Sportsnet: What allowed you to improve hitting with runners in scoring position?

JB: “Just being more selective, really, and having a more defined mindset and not try to overdo it. Look for contact, and allow contact to happen and hopefully the ball goes somewhere where I can drive the run in, as opposed to before, I would try to mash the ball and overdo it a little bit, get a little too excited in those situations. At times because of that I would miss the good pitch and expand the zone on pitches that were a little bit out of the strike zone.”

Sportsnet: During the team’s struggles in August and in key series in September, did you see teammates expanding their zone and trying to mash the ball rather than working with what’s offered?

JB: “I don’t think so. It’s hard to answer questions for other guys, but what I can see from the outside looking in is not that, it’s maybe a little timidness and shyness more than anything. We’ve played like that all year long. We’ve gotten good results at times, it’s just during (those) stretches we couldn’t really afford many losses and we lost too many games.”

Sportsnet: How would assess the job the team did in playing situational baseball?

JB: “Think about it, some teams hit .300 with runners in scoring position and go 10 games over .500. Another team can hit .250 with runners in scoring position and also be 10 games over .500 if they play better defence and have better starting pitching. Make a couple more productive outs, move runners over, get some sac flies, driving some runs in with ground balls. The average with runners in scoring position is affected, but you can still drive runs in. … It’s more about awareness, execution and situational hitting. It doesn’t have to be hits, hits, hits. I don’t think that’s the answer all the time.

“A lot of times you’ve got to create those situations. You might not see them and they might not happen, but if we would have created them, they could have. I’m dangling into sensitive territory, but I know everybody on this team wants to win, tries hard at winning, is trying to make a name for themselves or come through for the team to get those runs. Maybe strategy-wise it’s something that needs to be talked about more so people are more aware of it in certain situations. A lot of times when we’ve tried to rally when we’re three or four runs down, maybe we shouldn’t have been so aggressive trying to rally, trying to hit a double with a man on first, we should have tried to figure out a different way to get one run in, especially with our offence. If you get one run in and you’re down two instead of three, and then later in the game we hit a home run, all of a sudden we’re tied or we’re up by one. There’s been plenty of times we’ve been down by four and shutout until the seventh and hit a three-run homer. After that we can’t seem to muster anything, but if we somehow figured out a way to scratch out a run in the second inning without getting a hit, we would have been tied and it’s a different story.”

Sportsnet: Did this lineup too often play for the big inning rather than scratching out a run or two when available?

JB: “You can always get locked into that mindset, ‘At some point somebody is going to hit one.’ Maybe we shouldn’t be so closed-minded and be more open to being more creative about it. It’s not necessarily scoring two or three runs in an inning, maybe it’s just figuring out how to get that one, even if we are down by four. Just try to get that one and we’ll figure the rest out later and if we happen to run into a rally, we run into it. But don’t try to create and force the rally, the situation might not be there to try to do that.”

Sportsnet: What do you make of a season in which the team at times played so well, and then played so poorly?

JB: “Consistency is the name of the game at this level. At times we’ve been consistent with the pitching but not the hitting, at times we’ve been consistent with the hitting and not the pitching. We haven’t been able to put it together as opposed to the teams that are on the top, it seems they struggle at both at the same time. … It’s hard to gel sometimes, we couldn’t find that rhythm other than May, when everything was clicking. At times it’s not really finding seven, eight game winning streaks, it’s about preventing the five, four, six game losing streaks, we’ve had a couple of those and that’s really hurt us.”

Sportsnet: When you look back at this season, how will you feel about what the team did?

JB: “Given all the adversity we had to deal with, guys getting hurt, some people underperforming their durabilities, to still be sitting here with a winning record you can’t say we did too bad. Additionally, and I hate to even bring it up again, but you’ve got to consider your landscape and what you’re dealing with in order to really assess how good or bad you’re doing, and at the deadline, we didn’t really add much and the other teams did, and they’re seeing the benefits and we didn’t. That’s a third of the season, that’s two full months, we can’t overlook that. It works for some teams, and it doesn’t for others, you look at what Oakland’s going through and they added a lot and everybody thought they were going to take off and run with it. Sometimes moves work, sometimes they don’t.”

Sportsnet: A body or two for depth, at minimum, would have helped.

JB: “Ideally. All those details and reasons why or why not and the intricacies of that only Alex (Anthopoulos) knows.”

Sportsnet: What’s your outlook for 2015?

JB: “The talent is still here. Luckily for us the core of this team will be intact next year except for Melky (Cabrera) and Colby (Rasmus) and Casey (Janssen). We have two guys that are hopefully going to be superstars in the future with (Marcus) Stroman and (Aaron) Sanchez, they’ve shown that they belong and they’re going to be here all year next year, ideally. There’s a possibility of (Brandon) Morrow having a role if he’s healthy, either starting or closing or relieving. Janssen is gone so that’s a role he can step into if he chooses to do it (if his option is exercised or he gets re-signed). Our bullpen has done a pretty good job, I think. Our starting pitching, the core is coming back, (R.A.) Dickey, (Mark) Buehrle, Stroman, (Drew) Hutchison, (J.A.) Happ – we’ve got pitching. We’ve got to make some moves in other spots.

“We’ve got (Anthony) Gose, and there’s nobody that can say he can’t hit for average next year. He plays arguably the best defence in the league in centre field with the range and arm he’s got. Running the bases and all he brings to the table, he just needs to make more contact. That’s one hole in the outfield that’s solved. We’ve got (Maicer) Izturis coming back at second, (Brett) Lawrie coming back at third, everybody else is pretty much cemented into the roster for next year, there’s not that many moves to be made. If anything, maybe some depth in the infield and a left-fielder, maybe a starter. We also have (Ryan) Goins here who’s played tremendous defence. Being as hopeful and as confident as I was at the beginning of the year, and just looking at the roster as I just did, why wouldn’t I be just as excited for next year.

“With some salary being gone with Melky, Janssen and Colby, that frees up $20-something million in free agency that can translate into some good additions if he chooses to go that way. If not, there are always trades. It seems like we have some younger guys who performed well in triple-A and might be desirable for others. It’s going to be where do we want to add, because we also have (Kevin) Pillar that can fill in in left. Where do you want to have the upgrade? We’re not in a bad position, but we need to address a couple of things. I’m just as excited about next year as I was about this year when we showed up in spring training.”