Testy issue for Blue Jays

Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista bunts during batting practice at the club's spring training...

Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista bunts during batting practice at the club's spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., Feb. 21, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 PM ET

DUNEDIN, FLA. - Ah, the sights and sounds of the first day of spring training. The smell of the grass, the explosion of bat against ball, the pop of the catcher’s mitt, the merry tinkle of athletes urinating into plastic jars.

Yes, nothing says baseball quite like that first mandatory drug test of the season.

That was the first order of business Wednesday in the Blue Jays clubhouse, the test everyone knows is coming. As part of the collectively bargained MLB drug policy, each player will be tested for performance enhancing drugs at the start of camp then at least once more, without prior notice, during the season. Some 1,200 other random tests will be conducted. It is the random testing that has raised eyebrows around the Blue Jays bunker because of Jose Bautista’s recent revelation that he has been tested 16 times in the past two years.

“A little bit more than random?” asked manager John Farrell, one of those with raised eyebrows.

“First and foremost, we support and are in complete compliance with the testing policies and procedures that are in place. But when you see that number of tests administered, it makes you take a step back and wonder if there is additional thought behind that.”

The players targeted for random testing are supposed to be chosen in just that way: randomly. No names, just numbers that correlate to each player, are spit out by a computer used by the testing agency. Supposedly, there is no MLB input into that procedure. But it does make one wonder.

“We haven’t had other players in the same time frame even close to the number of tests that have been administered (to Bautista),” said Farrell.

Bautista, himself, while weary of the whole discussion, is a willing participant.

“It’s within the rules,” the two-time defending MLB home run champ said with a shrug when asked about it the other day.

Now that the new CBA is in place, blood testing for human growth hormone is also in place. One mandatory blood test will be conducted on each player during spring training with further testing possible for “reasonable cause.”

We’re not sure what “reasonable cause” means but just the words themselves would make me a little nervous. If Bautista is already being targeted in some way for extra scrutiny, then one man’s “reasonable cause” could certainly be another man’s harassment.

“If it was 16 (tests) or anything close to that number in a two year period, it’s a little excessive,” said pitcher Carlos Villanueva, Bautista’s teammate and a member of the four-man executive board of the MLB Players Association.

“I’ve been tested, I think, four times. I know I haven’t hit 50 homers. If it’s like that, it certainly doesn’t look like it’s random.”

While standing up for his player’s rights, on one hand, Farrell also pointed out that by being tested so often without a hint of impropriety, Bautista has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that his rapid rise from utility player to stardom has been achieved honestly.

“We’re privy to his work ethic, his intelligence and his ability to make adjustments in his swing,” said Farrell. “You might look at it and say, are those (extra) tests because this is someone who has broken out and become a superstar player? I’d like to think we all know that it’s the result of hard work and adjustments along the way and not something artificial.

“The fact that he’s had that many tests and they’ve all been negative even speaks more volumes that there’s nothing hidden here and nothing to be attributed other than the fact you’re looking at a damn good player who has done a lot of hard work and has learned along the way. That’s the reason for his success, not a shortcut.”

Beyond the initial mandatory HGH test, which is supposed to be administered within the first five days of the opening of spring training, there is still some uncertainty about how it will be implemented.

There are still issues to be worked out between the players and MLB.

“In my opinion it’s a good thing the more we can clean up our sport,” said Villanueva. “Some of us might not want to be, but we are role models.

“It sounds very simple to implement that test but there are a lot of details to be worked out. We’re moving in the right direction.”


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