Red-hot Edwin Encarnacion rejuvenated at the plate

In each of his past nine games, Edwin Encarnacion’s reached base multiple times, the longest streak by an American League player this season. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

TORONTO – Rejuvenated from some healing over the all-star break, Edwin Encarnacion is on a nice little run for the Toronto Blue Jays, batting .321 (17-for-53) with five doubles, one homer, three RBIs, nine runs and 12 walks since play resumed.

The hard-hitting first baseman/DH has also struck out just six times in 15 games over that span, a product, he says, of his recent physical recuperation.

“Those four days were very good for me because I wasn’t 100 per cent with injuries in my groin and shoulder,” Encarnacion says in an interview after Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Minnesota Twins. “Now I feel ready, I feel good and I can let it go.”

Encarnacion’s shoulder troubles date back to May, and he received a cortisone shot in the area in June. He fought through hamstring issues around the same time, and tweaked his groin mid-June, when he dropped to the ground awkwardly on a brush-back pitch against the Mets in New York.

“That’s why I wasn’t running 100 per cent,” he says, adding that rehab exercises helped strengthen the area. “When I’m running now I don’t feel it.”

He’s running noticeably better of late, a prime example coming in the fourth inning Tuesday, when he dashed from second to third on Russell Martin’s grounder to third, taking off once Trevor Plouffe threw across diamond.

The shoulder has improved to the point he no longer needs to curtail his swing, the way he did when his range of motion was limited.

“Yeah, I had to try not to do too much,” Encarnacion says. “I’ve been swinging at the ball too hard and that’s not the way I swing. I try to stay short, that’s what I’ve been trying to do the last couple of weeks, after the all-star game it’s been working more for me.”

In each of his past nine games, he’s reached base multiple times, the longest streak by an American League player this season, matching Jose Bautista’s club record established in 2010.

The only thing missing is one of the home run binges he’s become known for in recent seasons. He’s got 19 homers and 57 RBIs in 100 games so far.

“That’s going to come, I just have to keep taking good swings and making good contact and the power is going to come back,” says Encarnacion. “I don’t worry about that, I still have my power, just keep trying to hit the ball in the right spot.”

Encarnacion’s last homer came July 21 at Oakland, a massive blast to left. The depth of offence in the Blue Jays lineup has meant the long ball hasn’t been missed the way it might have been in previous seasons.

“That’s the good thing now, we have a lot of guys that can hit the ball over the fence,” says Encarnacion. “It’s a lot less pressure for us. It looks completely different.”

LEADOFF MAN: Troy Tulowitzki is acclimating well to his new role as leadoff man for the Blue Jays, batting .333 (8-for-24) with two doubles, two homers, five RBIs, nine runs scored and three walks in seven games.

Has he been doing anything different atop the lineup?

“I stole a base – that’s probably something I’ve done a little different,” Tulowitzki says with a grin. “But other than that, no. I just take the same at-bat as if I was hitting third or fourth.”

Tulowitzki certainly hasn’t been predictable. Often, leadoff hitters try to start games by seeing as many pitches as they can in their first at-bat, hoping to give teammates a chance to gauge what a pitcher may be featuring on a given day.

On Monday, he worked a five-pitch at-bat against Ervin Santana in the first inning, while Tuesday he put Phil Hughes’ first pitch in play.

“I mix it up,” Tulowitzki explains. “There are so many scouting reports out there now you don’t want to be known as a guy who’s going to take the first pitch every time – they’re going to start pumping fastballs. At the same time, with runners in scoring position you want to take a good at-bat, be a hard out, a tough out, so that’s what I try to do. I pride myself in quality at-bats and so far I’ve done a decent job of that, some at-bats have been better than others, but it makes my job easier when I don’t have to try to do too much. I’m not the guy in the lineup, there are a lot of guys that can come through and hit home runs at any point and time, I really haven’t had that in my career. I’ve played with good players but not this many.”

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