Bautista had a sizzling June

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hit .271 with 14 homers in June. (QMI Agency files)

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hit .271 with 14 homers in June. (QMI Agency files)

Bob Elliott, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:17 PM ET

The rookie made 20 starts in 2004.

Twice he faced lefty Johan Santana on his way to winning a Cy Young award with the Minnesota Twins.

Twice he started against former Cy Young winner Randy Johnson.

And twice he went against three-time all-star David Wells.  

Welcome to the big leagues kid.

He was a combined 4-for-19 (.211) against the trio of lefties, with three of the hits against Wells.

He also started against Jarrod Washburn, Ted Lilly, Adam Eaton and Eric Milton.

“Most of my starts were against lefties, we’d give one of our left-handed hitters the day off,” Jose Bautista said while sitting at his locker inside the clubhouse at Rogers Centre.

“That was my only chance to get into the lineup.”

The vagabond 2004 season as a Rule V player — playing for the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates — was the beginning, not the end for Bautista. 

As was April of this season the beginning, when he hit .181 with three homers, 10 RBIs and a .634 OPS.

When the curtain came down on June on Saturday afternoon at the Rogers Centre, Bautista had the most productive month of any hitter since Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit 15 homers in September of 2010.

Bautista goes into Canada Day after hitting .271 in June with 14 homers.

It was the most he had ever hit in a month surpassing May and August of 2010 (12 homers each).

Based on OPS, Bautista’s 1.158 was his sixth best of the 16 months he has been an everyday player with the Jays as he wrestled the reins of the offence from Edwin Encarnacion. 

Sammy Sosa had the best June ever with 20 homers in 1998. Next were Pedro Guerrero in 1985, Roger Maris in 1961 and Jim Thome in 2004, who hit 15 apiece. Then Bautista.

Sure everyone knew back in 2004 when Bautista was bouncing from clubhouse to clubhouse like a ping pong ball that he would be mentioned in the same breath as those sluggers.

Sixty one days with manager Lee Mazzilli’s Orioles, 25 with Lou Piniella’s Tampa Bay Rays, 32 with Tony Pena’s Kansas City Royals and 65 with Lloyd McClendon’s Pirates.

“It wasn’t frustrating for me, not at all,” said Bautista, who the Orioles drafted from the Pirates class-A Lynchburg roster. “I was making $300,000, flying on charter planes, learning from major-league coaches. If I hadn’t been a Rule V draft I would have been making $1,500 a month, taking overnight buses and been in class-A ball, maybe double-A.”    

Whether it was Willie Upshaw, George Bell, Manny Lee, Jim Gott or Jim Acker, the Blue Jays approach if they took a player in the draft was to keep the minor-leaguer for the season, send him to the minors the next season and then allow him to move upward.

Not the case with Bautista, who also started against Casey Fossum, Kirk Rueter and Carlos Hernandez twice each, plus Jeff Weaver, Gary Knotts, Rodrigo Lopez, Joe Kennedy, Aaron Harang and Chad Durbin.

He finished with a .205 average (18-for-88) and two RBIs in 65 games.

Now, Bautista, who surged into the top three amongst outfielders along with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers and Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees, will be among those chosen for the third consecutive season when the all-star roster is announced for Kansas City on Sunday night.

He says he has not heard yet if he’ll participate in the home run derby July 9. 

Canadian stars

The first Canadians have already been selected to the all-star game in Kansas City.

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, the gift that keeps on giving, is flying former coach Bobby Smyth and his wife, Cathy, from Vancouver to K.C.

Over the years Votto has given his former Etobicoke Rangers coach his framed Reds jersey from his first game, his Team Canada top from the World Baseball Classic in 2009, taken him in a trip with the Reds and flown him to Cooperstown, N.Y., for a Father’s Day weekend with Hall of Famers.

On his best days Smyth can be described as gruff.

“Yeah, we’re going but we have to go through O’Hare, if we miss our slot, we could be there for six hours,” Smyth said. “It was awfully nice of Joey. Again.”

And Smyth is seldom ever speechless, unless Votto phones and delivers surprise news of his next gift.

There, however, a slight pause when I said “So Bobby, you’re going to the all-star game? Well, I didn’t vote for you.”

PER-GAME RITUAL IS ‘NEAT’

Ten minutes before the first pitch of each home game Ricky Romero pops out of the dugout.

He then squats at home plate, catches the ceremonial first pitch, shakes hands and poses with a photographer.

Outside of some celeb or maybe a prime minister in all the years we’ve been watching this event it has always been a back-up catcher or a bench player who takes on this unwanted pre-game ritual.

Never a team’s No. 1 starter.

“Ricky approached us a year ago asking if he could do it,” said Marnie Starkman, director of game entertainment and promotions for the Blue Jays.

So, on Canada Day for the 95th time since opening day in 2011, Romero will catch the ceremonial first pitch Sunday afternoon at the Rogers Centre. He’s performed the duty most players shun in every game but his 23 home starts.

“I thought it would be cool. We always had a hard time finding some one to do it,” said Romero. “It’s neat when you see the people’s faces and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize YOU were catching.’

“The most fun is the way that the kids react.”

When Romero was here in January, Starkman gave Romero a framed picture of each one of his first-ball presentations from 2011 which formed his uniform No. 24. He has a picture of the picture on his cell phone.

He’s caught first pitches from athletes, wrestlers, a Victoria’s Secret model (“for sure the prettiest”) and people from charitable organizations.

There is no doubt as to his No. 1 experience — catching the ceremonial first pitch from his father Ricardo on Father’s Day.

“My father had not been to Toronto since my debut in 2009,” explained Romero, who Starkman arranged to fly in, before the WestJet promotion brought in a dozen or so other fathers.

“That moment we shared was so special,” Romero said. “My father is not an emotional guy, but he heard the fans cheer, saw how people here accepted me in this city and he could not talk. He didn’t tell me, but when he got upstairs he told my sister how proud he was as a father.”

NO FIREWORKS ON CANADA DAY

Kevin Glew, of the excellent Cooperstowners in Canada website, reports a Canadian has never homered for the Blue Jays on Canada Day.

Matt Stairs of Fredericton, N.B., combined for three singles for the Jays in 2007-08.

Right now, there are two Canadians on the Jays roster for only the second time in franchise history with Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., at third base and North Vancouver’s Scott Richmond in the bullpen.

Port Hope’s Paul Quantrill and Paul Spoljaric of Kelowna, B.C. were the first in 1996. 

Quantrill and Spoljaric were also the only Canadians to have pitched for the Jays on Canada Day. 

Quantrill made relief appearances on July 1 in 1997, 1998 and 2001, working a total of two runs, allowing one unearned run.

Spoljaric worked in 1996 and 1999 pitching 4 1/3 innings allowing one run. 

OUCH, POOR RAUCH

Ex-Jay Jon Rauch went into the record books last Monday.

The New York Mets reliever joined Slim Love of the 1916 Yankees as the only major-leaguers since 1900 to give up four runs — all unearned — on zero hits and no more than one walk in a third of an inning.

It went like this: Adrian Cardenas reached when third baseman David Wright misplayed his pop fly; after Reed Johnson struck out, Darwin Barney reached on an error by right fielder Lucas Duda, Starlin Castro was safe when second baseman Ronny Cedeno couldn’t handle his grounder and after a walk to Alfonso Soriano, Rauch was gone.

All eventually scored. 


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