TORONTO - Not that Jose Bautista is a pitching coach ... Yet after 2,982 at-bats with five teams in this, his eighth major-league season, plus another 1,702 at-bats in the minors, plus all those best-of-nine playoff series in winter ball, the Blue Jays right fielder is certainly qualified to give an opinion on a pitcher.
“Listen ...” Bautista says slowly in a measured tone, as if timing a pitch. “Kyle Drabek ... is one of the most talented young pitchers I have ever seen.
“Right now he’s trying to do too much. All he needs to do is relax.”
Easier said than done.
Drabek threw Boston Red Sox Marco Scuturo an eight-pitch, lead-off walk to open the third inning on Sunday. Visibly upset at loosing the battle against Scutaro, his emotions carried over into the next batter, issuing a four-pitch walk setting up a two-run Sox rally thanks to one single.
There was a time when Bautista, as a Pittsburgh Pirates minor league outfielder, wore so many emotions on his sleeves he needed the shoulder-to-wrist Under Armour.
Every at-bat was treated as if it was Game 7 of the World Series.
Like the fate of the free world depended upon him getting a base hit.
The young Pirate turned the page, learned to play under control, wear short sleeves and carry his emotions in his back pocket.
You may have heard how his maturation process turned out. He hit 54 home runs for the Blue Jays in 2010.
Drabek could learn from Bautista’s current calmness and composure.
“Kyle has to shift his focus from results to consistently throwing strikes,” Bautista said. “He is trying to run before he learns how to crawl.”
While Dave Stieb stared down outfielders Lloyd Moseby and George Bell (“I had to keep Moseby away from him or there would have been a fight,” the noted peacemaker Bell once told me) or umpires, Drabek is battling Kyle Jordan Drabek.
“He doesn’t have to be perfect with every pitch,” Bautista said.
Kevin Boland’s wonderful book on Stieb was entitled Tomorrow I’ll be Perfect.
Stieb was ... and long before his perfect game that Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
We’d heard how Drabek had a temper and was out of control before we saw him for the first time in May of 2010 at Concord, N.H., starting for double-A New Hampshire against hated New Britain.
How was this for a first inning?
Strike three was in the dirt and partially blocked. The ball got away from catcher Brian Jeroloman, who picked it up and threw high to first.
After a stolen base, the runner appeared to be easy pickings without a double pump from Jeroloman who threw late to third.
Then a single off the glove of first baseman David Cooper, which should have been an error.
And then a ground ball to short was clanked.
Instead of three outs, none were out, a run was in and a man was on first.
Drabek didn’t stomp or throw his arms in the air like all of the New Hampshire primary electorate was plotting against him. He didn’t kick the mound like a Little Leaguer.
He retired New Britain hitters for the next six innings without any further damage.
Afterwards, he was asked about that first inning.
“Brian picked up the ball, it had rolled a few of feet onto the grass, still wet from when the groundskeeper hosed down the plate area,” Drabek said. “It wasn’t his fault. The ball to first took a bad hop, I saw he had an angle on it, I was over to cover.”
Does that answer sound like someone who can’t handle to foibles of his teammates?
Drabek leads the American League in walks.
Big whoop. He’s 23 and skipped triple-A.
Whenever Roy Halladay speaks to the Philadelphia Phillies minor league pitchers, he first tells them: “I hold the all-time record for highest ERA (10.64) of any starter who made more than 10 starts in 2000.”
Halladay was 23 then.