PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — With every ball that Jose Bautista launches far over the wall, the Toronto Blue Jays are more certain he’s back to form.
Bautista hit his fifth home run of the spring, a long solo shot that helped the Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 Thursday.
Bautista, a two-time home run champion, had season-ending surgery on his left wrist last Sept. 4. He finished the year with 27 homers and 65 RBIs while batting .241.
His drive to deep left-centre field was another reassuring sign for his team.
“He’s healthy. We’ve felt good about him the last three weeks,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “He’s gotten past that and shown no signs of anything being wrong.”
Roberto Hernandez is feeling better himself, too.
The Tampa Bay pitcher threw six innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out two and walking no one. He also got Bautista to ground into a double play in the first. The only blemish was a home run by Colby Rasmus.
“Everything was working,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “His fastball really had good dive to it. Nice changeup, His slider. All good.”
By now, most are somewhat familiar with the Hernandez story. He is probably still best known as Fausto Carmona. It was under that name that in 2007, at age 26, he went 19-8, finished fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting and helped the Indians get within a game of World Series.
A big contract followed, but Hernandez was never able to replicate the success he enjoyed that season. His heavy sinking fastball didn’t sink enough, and he couldn’t locate the rest of his pitches.
The 32-year-old Hernandez was later arrested in the Dominican Republic on false identity charges. The charges were dropped after he completed a work program, and Major League Baseball suspended him for three weeks.
Hernandez sprained his right ankle last August and missed the rest of the year. He has pitched seven years in the majors, all with Cleveland. He was 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA last season.
The Rays, remembering the 19-8 arm and not the struggles that followed, signed him in the off-season. He is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation.
“Every game is very important for me,” he said. “Whenever I have the opportunity to go the mound, every pitch is important. Today, I think I did great. I tried to keep the ball down and get some groundballs.”
Eugenio Velez also homered for Toronto. The Rays’ only run came in the sixth inning on an infield single from James Loney.
Four Blue Jays pitchers, led by starter Claudio Vargas, combined to allow only six hits and struck out nine.