Blue Jays 8 Indians 1
TORONTO — On another night of swirling will he stay or will he go drama, Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista provided both his current employers and potential suitors more reason to covet his services.
The major-league home run leader continued his relentless assault on opposition pitchers Friday, belting his third career grand slam in the fourth inning of an 8-1 rout of the Cleveland Indians.
Bautista also added two singles, a hit-by-pitch and a walk to go with his 31st home run and four RBIs, upping his total for 79 this season, before leaving the game for a pinch-runner in the eighth.
The move immediately led to a bout of speculation on whether he might have been dealt — reports surfaced during the game of a new San Francisco Giants push — but manager Cito Gaston said he was just giving his slugger a short breather.
Afterwards, his teammates spoke of how much they want him to remain with the Blue Jays beyond today’s 2 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, a feeling shared by Bautista.
“Hopefully they keep me around,” he said. “I like this team a lot, I like my teammates, so to hear them say stuff like that makes me feel real good and accepted. I’m just having a lot of fun right now.”
So are the Blue Jays (54-49), who cruised to their fourth straight win behind Bautista’s slam, which made it a 7-0 contest, and a dominant Shaun Marcum (10-4), who fought off flu-like symptoms to hit double-digits in wins for the second time in his career.
He allowed just a run on three hits, baffling the Indians (42-61) to the tune of 10 strikeouts over seven innings.
“He probably pitched one of his best games all year,” said Gaston, who told Marcum to stay home and rest Saturday.
Fred Lewis added a solo shot, Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar added RBI singles and Escobar also scored on a wild pitch to complete the beating of Justin Masterson (3-10) before a crowd of 20,228.
Bautista is one of several Blue Jays to have been the focal point of rumours in the leadup to the deadline — along with relievers Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, catcher John Buck and first baseman Lyle Overbay — and several teams have inquired about him.
The first-time all-star — earning US$2.4 million in 2010 and not eligible for free agency until after 2011 — is a rare combination of power and versatility with plus defence at multiple positions, making him worth keeping even if the numbers from his breakthrough campaign aren’t repeated. It would likely take a handsome sum to pry him away from general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who has hinted at the 29-year-old’s emergence into a core piece this season.
“Honestly, I think he’s going to be around,” said Overbay. “He’s too valuable right now. He can play all the positions and they’ve got something they can control (contractually). It makes sense to keep him.”
All the rumours certainly haven’t hurt Bautista’s production. Since the all-star break, he’s batting .397 with seven homers and 23 RBIs.
“You can’t help to hear stuff,” he said. “Sometimes your friends or your agent or somebody will say something about it. I’m trying not to look at it too much so I can keep focusing on playing every day.”
While Anthopoulos is setting the bar high for Bautista, he’s doing the same with his relievers, who are likely to bring the Blue Jays at least one compensatory draft pick, if not two in Downs’ case, should they leave as free agents. That’s why he has no reason to drop his demands, which some teams have complained about.
There was one player traded during the game. Indians outfielder Austin Kearns left in the seventh inning, and was traded to the New York Yankees for a player to be named or cash.
Will Bautista be next?
Blue Jays centre-fielder Vernon Wells hopes not, even though Bautista keeps clearing the bases in front of him.
“I told him, ’Thanks, keep driving in all the runs (after the grand slam).’ It’s hard to follow up what he’s doing. I either punch out or hit a measly double, which I did in that situation. It’s no fun. He takes all the fun out of the game,” said Wells, before turning serious.
“He’s obviously come into his own. You can rely on him at third base, you can rely on him in right field, he’s one of the better right-fielders I’ve played with and seen play. All that is bonus to what he’s doing at the plate. Hopefully he’ll stick around.”
Notes: The Blue Jays picked up 1B Mike Jacobs from the New York Mets for a player to be named later in a minor-league deal aimed at filling the void at triple-A Las Vegas created by Thursday’s trade of 1B Brett Wallace for OF Anthony Gose. … Wallace’s departure has also blown the Blue Jays’ succession plans at first, with Lyle Overbay set to become a free agent after the season. Manager Cito Gaston says it’s a bit more important now to get Adam Lind some playing time at first down the stretch. “We want to see if he can play over there,” said Gaston. “But, you know, in the off-season, there’s still some first basemen out there that you can go get.” … OF Travis Snider rejoined the Blue Jays after 2 1-2 months away with a sprained right wrist that took much longer to heal than initially expected. “Every time I felt OK to try and swing, it was a quick reminder that I wasn’t ready,” he said. “I have that kind of mentality where I will go out there and push myself sometimes too hard. So it was a balancing act that I had to work through.” … Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor says living with constant trade rumours hasn’t been easy. “I think we dwell on it too much because it’s really out of our control,” he said, adding he hopes to stay put. “I’ve been here seven years somehow. My wife is Canadian, my son was just born here, even my dog’s Canadian so I’ve got some roots here, man. I love it here.”