Bautista: New turf slowing down groundballs

Rubber pellets from the new Rogers Centre turf fly up as Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. misses a diving catch. (Peter Power/CP)

TORONTO – First impressions of the new turf at the Rogers Centre is that no groundball will ever sneak through the infield.

Did it feel that way, Jose Bautista?

“Yes,” the Toronto Blue Jays slugger, barely waiting for a reporter to finish the question. “It feels like there are no balls that are going to get to the wall. Maybe on a one-hopper, but nothing that rolls or has more than four, five bounces. It feels like nothing is going to get to the wall, so hitting a groundball through, it better be a one-hopper, or a low line drive, maybe one or two hops max. If it takes more than two hops, I don’t know how it will get through unless it’s a shift and you hit it where the next person is 20 feet away.”

A subplot in the Blue Jays’ 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in their home opener Monday night was how the new turf played. Rays manager Kevin Cash’s described it this way: “It appeared as if the ball was never getting to you.”

Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey called it “slow,” and said of the groundball he hit up the middle in the eighth inning that seemed destined for the outfield: “It sucked it up.”

Bautista assumes the surface will change over time as the rubber pellets used as fill settle and pack, but right now they have accumulated unevenly in some spots.

Asked he if feels slower running on it, he replied: “Somewhat. It feels like you kind of spin your wheels a little bit every time you impact the ground with your stride. I can’t say I feel that way too much. I notice it, but I don’t feel like it slows me down that much. …

“The guys probably complaining are the fast guys. They have a better feel for the energy they receive from the ground, where I don’t because I’m not that fast.”

Bautista was thrown out trying to steal in the ninth as Edwin Encarnacion struck out, but he wouldn’t blame the turf for slowing him down: “Like I said, I’m not that fast. And it was a high fastball, catcher’s got a good arm. Unfortunately, we took a gamble and it didn’t pay off.”

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