Jays notebook: Bautista banking on health

Jose Bautista insists the team has everything in place to succeed. (Frank Gunn/CP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – A year ago when he arrived at spring training, Jose Bautista met with reporters and proclaimed the 2013 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays as “by far the best team I’ve played on,” and added, “I just don’t see where it can go bad for us.”

Reminded of his comments Friday after the club’s first full-squad workout, the right-fielder nodded and replied: “I don’t want to say anything to jinx us. I might not have had the answer then, but I do now – injuries went the wrong way for us. Actually, that’s been the case the last two years. If it’s luck, if it’s whatever it might have been, hopefully it changes this year. The only thing we need is to remain healthy. If that’s taken care of, everything else will fall into place.”

Key in that regard is the health of Bautista himself.

A wrist injury cut his 2012 season short and a hip injury truncated his 2013 campaign, but he checked into camp with any issues in the rear-view mirror. He’s spent the past two months working out with left-fielder Melky Cabrera and the two have been hitting since the start of the new year.

“(The hip) hurt going up and down steps until mid-October, but after that it started letting go and feeling good,” said Bautista. “After I saw the doctor in the second week of November when I got cleared to start jogging and running, the progression was pretty easy.”

More difficult will be turning around the Blue Jays, although Bautista insisted the team has everything in place to succeed. That’s why he was okay with GM Alex Anthopoulos standing pat.

“If everybody does as well as they’re capable of doing, with some leadership – and hopefully I get to help out in that area – I think we can be a much better team than we were last year, and a closer team than we showed,” he said. “That being said, it’s going to be a totally different season and hopefully with a lot of health everything is going to be taken care off. I don’t think we have to worry about talent level or quality of players or production individually. As a group, we’re good enough that if somebody is not doing great, somebody else can pick that person up.”

Familiarity should help too, he believes.

“It’s going to help with improved communication, we’re not going to be wasting time getting to know each other, just how do we keep getting better and better every single day,” said Bautista. “That aspect is going to be much easier.”

KRATZ AND DICKEY: Erik Kratz caught R.A. Dickey again Friday and the plan is for them to keep working together throughout the spring, an indication he has the inside track over Josh Thole in the competition to back up Dioner Navarro.

Manager John Gibbons praised Kratz’s handling of the knuckleball after the live batting practice session, but insisted there’s nothing to be read into his exclusive work with Dickey thus far.

“We know Thole can catch it, so we want to give Kratzie every chance in camp to get used to it,” said Gibbons. “If we decide he’s not going to be able to do it, or that’s the way it develops, we’ll get Josh to start catching him.”

The backup role may be more important this season than in previous years, since Navarro caught just 470 innings last season, and it’s no certainty he can make the jump to the 1,000 range. That means Kratz or Thole should play more often than previous backups.

“We’ll see, it will depend on how Navarro does, see what kind of durability he has,” said Gibbons. “Ideally we’re going to want to get him out there a lot, but that will all shake itself out.”

A VIEW ON LEADERSHIP: There are differing opinions on what exactly defines leadership on a sports team, and exactly how important it is.

Bautista sees it as “a combination, a mix,” of being vocal, and leading by example.

“Sometimes stuff needs to be said, and sometimes doing what you do every single day should be good enough,” he said. “What I truly believe is that leadership doesn’t necessarily correlate to responsibility, it just reflects the fact that you might be doing something positive that people can emulate to get positive results. I know that at times it might entail that the line you’re walking is a little finer, but it’s always hard to drop responsibilities on people because they’re leaders. Another thing I can say is that it’s hard to have just one leader when it’s a big group of people. I’ll try my best to always do whatever’s asked of me to the best of my capabilities, I feel like I’ve done that so far, and will work hard to continue to do that in the future.”

SHORT HOPS: The Blue Jays claimed Aussie right-hander Liam Hendriks off waivers from Baltimore and designated infielder Brent Morel for assignment. Hendriks, 25, went 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA in 10 games, eight starts, for the Minnesota Twins last year. … Relief prospect John Stilson tweaked a hamstring on Thursday and is day to day. … Gibbons watched some of Melky Cabrera’s batting practice and liked what he saw until the outfielder took his helmet off. “He looked good, he looked strong,” said Gibbons. “He’s got a bad haircut, but it’s good to see him.”

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