|Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista signs autographs for fans at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida on February 25, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
DUNEDIN — For Jose Bautista this spring marks a huge break with the past.
It’s not just the five-year, $65-million bonanza that a 54-home run season dropped in his lap but the fact he’s not fighting for a job.
“This is the first one that I’m not battling for a spot,” said Bautista Saturday after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Toronto’s 4-0 defeat by the Tigers in the Grapefruit League opener for both teams.
“It’s fun. It allows me to relax and concentrate on the details of perfecting — as much as I can — my game.
“I’m not treating these like regular at-bats because it’s not the time yet. I just want to make contact, and get that rhythm. Plenty of time yet to start thinking about results.”
After months of physical workouts and weeks of baseball preparation, Bautista was thrilled to get back on the field and play the game
“It’s good to get that adrenalin going,” he said. “It’s better than playing your teammates because, no matter how hard you try, those intersquad games are just not the same.”
In his short time here, John Farrell has marvelled at how obviously Bautista has assumed a leadership role.
“What you see with Jose is not only the physical abilities, but inside these walls here and the way he goes about his work on the field, he sets the tone,” Farrell said. “He’s always the first guy in the line, the guy leading the pack in early conditioning drills. After the workouts, a lot of guys are falling in line with his example in the gym.
“That’s the definition of a leader.”
Like Farrell, Bautista believes there’s plenty of time this spring to experiment, then settle on a lineup that works. It’s important to establish some protection for Bautista wherever he bats but that’s not happening soon.
“It’s just something he’s playing with right now to get different looks,” Bautista said. “I’m going to have to adjust to whatever he goes with. If he goes with flip-flopping three and four, I’ll deal with that. If I stay at either three or four, I’ll deal with that.”
Last year, Bautista batted in seven different spots in the order, including leadoff, so he’s proven he can adapt.
“It was a year where we had to move around a lot of people,” Bautista said. “It was more a matter of juggling with whatever pieces we had at the moment. But again, John’s the manager and he’ll decide what’s best for the team and once he tells me what my role is going to be and where I’m going to hit, I’ll do as best I can.”
So ... lead off again, right?
“I don’t think Rajai Davis would agree with you on that one,” said Bautista, with a laugh.