Mathis, Bautista go way back

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hits a two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox during the...

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hits a two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts Sept. 13, 2011. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

BOB ELLIOT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:18 PM ET

MARIANNA, FLA. - The book on the Blue Jays in 2011?

“Try not to let Jose Bautista beat you,” said Jeff Mathis, former catcher for manager Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels, regarded by scouts as one of the most prepared teams in the majors.

“We tried to keep the ball down on Jose,” said Marianna’s own Mathis, attending the fifth annual Chipola College Indians alumni weekend. He’s an honorary guest having signed out of high school with the Angels and worked out daily with the college team.

The Angels and Mathis did a better job than most facing Bautista — only the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s held Bautista to a lower OPS.

Facing the Angels, Bautista has hit .267 with two homers and seven RBIs in 27 games with an .844 OPS.

Oakland held Bautista to a .183 mark with two homers and three RBIs in 20 games plus a .628 OPS. At the other end of the spectrum, the two-time major-league home run champ fared best against the Minnesota Twins (.333, 15 homers, 33 RBIs in 20 game, 1.269 OPS).

How close are Mathis and Bautista?

When the Angels visited Toronto the last three years the Marianna native and Bautista who attended Chipola College in Marianna would go out after games.

“Usually a place near our hotel to talk hitting,” said Mathis of their visits to Hemingways in Yorkville. “Sometimes Jose would see us on TV and text me advice after an at-bat. When we were on the coast the Jays would be playing before our batting practice and I’d always try to tune in to see his at-bats.”

Mathis has followed the Jays bullpen make-over project with interest ever since Dec. 3 when hunting white tail deer in Alabama.

That’s when his cell rang, informing him his in-season address was changing from Anaheim to the Rogers Centre.

“We weren’t really hunting, we were scouting the woods,” said Mathis, who returned to the hunting camp after the call.

Mathis, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels to back up J.P. Arencibia this season, knows incoming closer Sergio Santos and lefty Darren Oliver.

“I’m excited about what they’ve done with the relievers,” said Mathis, who was a teammate of Oliver’s with the Angels from 2007-09. “He plays the game the right way. He’s a great fit for a bullpen.”

Santos, obtained from the Chicago White Sox, and Mathis played with the 2003 Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.

“He was a shortstop, an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect back then,” Mathis said.

Jose Molina started 48 games as Arencibia’s back-up a year ago. Now, Mathis, who started 64 games for the Angels takes Molina’s spot.

“J.P. is very talented, 23 homers as a rookie, very impressive,” said Mathis, who has an excellent reputation as a defensive catcher,

“I don’t want to be a guy with tendencies, how I’ll always call the same pitch in a 1-1 count, two out, man on second ... ‘oh he’s going to a breaking ball.’”

Like any Angel catcher Mathis had the finer points driven home by former all-star catcher Scioscia.

“Mike has a great insight into the game and the position,” said the 28-year-old. “If you didn’t give your pitcher a good visual target, down in the zone, you didn’t play. If you weren’t vocal, you didn’t play.”

Scioscia wanted his catchers to block the plate the way he did.

“In practice, he’d move around the infield using his fungo to hit balls at us, simulating throws from the outfield. You were expected to get down and block the plate.”

Mathis said the best starters he ever caught were Jered Weaver and John Lackey.

“Weaver had the best command of anyone I’ve ever caught, he could throw all four pitches for strikes,” Mathis said. “Lackey took me under his wing when I was called up. He’s not a bad guy. I hated to see him struggle last year.”

Now, Mathis and Lackey will see each other on a regular basis.

BAUTISTA DETHRONES MATHIS AS HOME RUN KING

New Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis thought he had a deal with slugger Jose Bautista.

“When I won last year I told him I’ve won this — now you go win the major league home run title again,” Mathis said on the weekend.

Mathis, two-time repeat champion of the home run derby at the fifth annual Chipola College weekend was dethroned by Bautista, who won for the first time in four visits to his old school.

Bautista hit six in his final at-bat edging former Los Angeles Angels minor-leaguer Blake Balkcom. On the chilly day Bautista hit 23 homers, most over the left-field fence. The alumni used aluminum bats rather than the wood bats major leaguers use.

“Finally,” said Bautista as he lifted his arms in the air before 600 or so fans. He was congratulated by derby participants and the alumni attending. “I was worried about Jeff in the second round when he had four homers and only one out.”

Balkcom was a teammate of Bautista’s at Chipola College in 2001.

“The thing about Jose is he has not changed one bit in 10-plus years, he’s still down to earth,” said Balkcom, a contractor who installs doors in nearby Chipley, Fla.

Chipola won the Panhandle conference in 2001, but at the state championships a starter came down with a sore arm.

“Coach Jeff Johnson picked Jose to start, he’d been closing all year, but hadn’t pitched more than three innings,” Balkcom recalled. “Jose pitched a complete game, striking out 12.”

A total of 14 former Chipola or area players competed in the home run derby, with varying degrees of success.

None had more distance than Bautista.

“I was shagging in left and one Bautista hit had to be 430 feet,” said Montreal outfielder Sasha LaGarde, a current Chipola Indian.

Lefty Brian Bardis who gained the alumni game win Friday with four innings of relief against San Jacinto, guessed at 450 feet.

Bautista missed the second annual game when he was playing for the Dominican Republic in the Latin American World Series.


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