MIAMI – Even before Jose Bautista and Marcus Stroman knew for certain that they were going to face each other in the World Baseball Classic, the trash talk between them was loud and lively over the past week in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse.
“And it continued last night via text,” Bautista said with a grin Friday after the Dominican Republic’s morning workout.
The defending tournament champions play the United States in one of the event’s marquee matchups Saturday night, with Bautista versus Stroman an intriguing subplot for Blue Jays fans.
Stroman is scheduled to start for the Americans and, based on how the Dominicans lined up in Thursday’s 9-2 win over Canada, will find his friend and Toronto teammate batting cleanup in a remarkably deep lineup.
“It’s going to be a little awkward but I’ve run through the scenario enough in my head that when the time comes I’m going to not let it be in the forefront of my thoughts, and just focus on the task at hand,” Bautista said in an interview. “He’s going to be an opponent in that moment, and unfortunately for our relationship, I have to think about beating him and he has to think about beating me. He’s a fierce competitor, he knows I’m the same way and we’re out there just battling.
“No matter what happens on the field, he understands that it’s competition and it doesn’t get to the personal level. I’m the same way. We can both be feisty in different situations and play with a lot of passion, but we don’t mix that up with life outside of baseball.”
Stroman feels the same way.
“It will be a little weird for sure,” he said. “He’s one of my brothers from the very beginning, who kind of took me under his wing. I’m very thankful to have Jose Bautista in my life for everything he’s done for me. But at the end of the day he’s on the other side, so I have to get him out. That’s the one goal. When you step between those lines, obviously I’m doing everything we can to win for the U.S., so that’s the approach I have going into it.”
The two started becoming close in 2014, when Stroman first reached the big leagues and took notice of Bautista’s meticulous training and body management.
The right-hander peppered the slugger with questions and a mutual respect formed that has only strengthened since.
“He seeks that advice, looks for guidance and doesn’t want to make mistakes and wants to learn from his mistakes and other people’s mistakes,” said Bautista. “He strives for excellence and I admire that a lot. For those reasons he gravitated toward me and it grew from there.”
Bautista comes into the game hot, having collected three hits including a monster three-run homer during Thursday’s 9-2 win over Canada, after a scorching start to the Grapefruit League schedule.
His homer came on a 2-0 fastball from Dustin Molleken—the type of pitch Stroman plans to avoid.
“Jose is swinging it unbelievable right now,” said Stroman. “He’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. I was with him all off-season, been training with him the last few months and he truly does have the body of a 25-year-old right now. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do this year, but at the end of the day, (Saturday) he’s on the other team, we want to win, so that’s the approach when we step between those lines.
“It’s U.S. versus the D.R., so you don’t really have time to be too nice out there.”
Both Stroman and Bautista can be very animated on the field, which will make what happens after each encounter particularly interesting to watch.
Should Blue Jays fans expect them to trade some chirps?
“That’s more his style,” replied Bautista. “I don’t expect it, but if it happens I know how to take it. I don’t try to get vocal when I’m on the field. I might be a little more animated but I don’t really transcend to verbally communicating during competition. He’s a fiery guy and that will be on full display (Saturday).”
Stroman is looking forward to pitching before a rowdy crowd expected to have a sizable contingent of Dominican fans. He’ll draw on his experiences pitching before Blue Jays post-season crowds to keep himself under control.
“I feel like I know how to deal with it now, where I’m not going to let my emotions and excitement get the best of me,” said Stroman. “I’m excited, I can’t downplay it, I’m excited to go out there against an unbelievable lineup, I can’t wait to go out there and get these guys out. It’s going to be fun.”