Finishing season healthy at forefront for Bautista
Coming off two injury-shortened years, slugger takes on unique training regimen
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jose Bautista has maintained his position as one of the elite power hitters in the game over the past couple of years, but the same type of consistency can't necessarily be said about his overall health.
Toronto's All-Star right fielder has seen his season come to a premature end in each of the past two years. In 2012, a partially torn tendon in his left wrist was the main culprit, while last season it was a deep bone bruise in his left hip.
The good news is that neither ailment has caused any lingering effects, but Bautista knows as well as anyone that he must find a way to stay healthy if the Blue Jays are going to be considered serious contenders for a spot in the postseason.
"I know that both injuries I had, the ones that actually took me out of the lineup for an extended period of time, were from impact plays or a freak accident with the wrist," Bautista told reporters Friday afternoon during his first media availability this spring.
"It's not because I was neglecting my training regime or anything like that, but it is disappointing, and it is upsetting that I didn't get to go out there and finish the season with the team or finish strong. That has been the case in the last two years, so hopefully it doesn't happen again."
The tendon issue came during a hard swing against the Yankees in July 2012 but wasn't a problem the following year. Instead, it was a bizarre bone bruise that he incurred while crossing home plate during a game against the Red Sox in August.
These are the types of injuries that are virtually impossible to predict -- or prevent -- so his offseason workouts haven't necessarily changed, but like every other aspect of his game, they have continued to evolve. Bautista spent the past two months working out with teammate Melky Cabrera in Tampa and came up with a rather unique training program.
Instead of just continually lifting weights or going through various drills, the two outfielders decided to make it a bit more fun. They spent some of their time flipping tires, pushing cars and pulling sleds. It sounds like a scene out of a Rocky movie, but just like everything else the meticulous Bautista does, it also came with a purpose.
"We had two workouts a day since Dec. 15," Bautista said. "One of the [workouts] was earlier in the day, and it was more functional stuff, more baseball-related strength and movement. Balancing our bodies and making sure we don't have any deficiencies in strength in one side of the body compared to the other.
"In baseball, every movement goes in one direction, so with so much repetitiveness you tend to get weaker on one side than the other. Then the other [workout], it was just pure strength and conditioning and speed and power. Working outdoors, doing more crazy weight-lifting and cross-fit-type workouts."
When Bautista's actually been on the field the past two years, he has been everything the Blue Jays could have realistically expected. The 33-year-old's home run production dropped slightly in 2013, but Bautista still had a realistic shot at 35 home runs and 100 RBIs when his season was cut short on Aug. 20.
The one area where the Blue Jays wouldn't mind seeing some improvement is with his situational hitting. It has become commonplace for opposing teams to use a defensive shift when he's at the plate, moving three infielders to the left side of the diamond. That's where Bautista primarily hits the ball, and the opposition tries to exploit the skewed numbers by filling in some of those holes.
It can be a frustrating experience, as hits to the left side can be turned into outs all while there's a gaping hole on the right side of the field. It's a fine line to ask a player of Bautista's caliber to change his pull-first approach without taking away from his strengths, but according to his manager, there's a time and place for that as well.
"I talked to Jose on and off last year about some things," John Gibbons said. "Jose has been one of the premier players in the league. You don't come in and try to mess with things. But ... I will say this, you watch the way they throw the shift at him, they leave some big holes for him, and there are some cheap RBIs that way.
"The way I look at it, say you get 50 home runs, which is an unbelievable year. That's a lot of at-bats without home runs. If you're more of a complete hitter, take some hits over here to get a rally going, drive in a big run, that can only help."
For his part, Bautista doesn't envision making any major changes this year. He has been an All-Star in each of the past four seasons, and his overall numbers have continued to be relatively consistent, even with the injury issues.
The production has gotten to a point where it's almost easy to forget that Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was highly criticized for signing Bautista to a five-year contract worth $65 million prior to the 2011 season. That seems like a relative bargain in today's market, and there's still two years of control left, possibly even three, with a club option for 2016.
Bautista's goal will be to continue producing at a similar rate, and that will start with maintaining his health and perhaps even improving his eye at the plate.
"I don't think I'm going to do anything too different from what I've done in the past," Bautista said. "Ideally, I'd like to do better at what makes me a good hitter, and that's swing at strikes and stay within my zones and not chase the pitches out of the zone too much.
"I struggled with that, especially the last two seasons in April ... but hopefully I can hit the ground running when this season starts, and my plate discipline will be there when we get started."