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Bautista champing at the bat

Jays slugger in Winnipeg today

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TORONTO -- Jose Bautista can't wait to get going.

After a season of frustration that ended in controversy, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger is excited for 2013 following the team's major roster overhaul.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos added five former or current all-stars in a series of off-season moves, including the addition of National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, fellow pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, as well as shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Melky Cabrera.

"A lot of great moves. Alex has really stuck to his word and said that when the time was right he was going to pull some moves to make this team competitive for a long period of time and that's exactly what he's done," Bautista said Saturday at Rogers Centre as the Blue Jays kicked off their winter tour. "It gives all of us -- the players, the coaches, the fans, the front office, the ownership -- a lot of reasons to be excited and happy about our upcoming seasons."

While the addition of new talent immediately makes the Blue Jays favourites in the American League East, it also brings added focus to a club that hasn't made the playoffs since winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

Great expectations

"They're great expectations. I wouldn't say it's pressure," said Bautista, who missed the final two months of last season with a wrist injury that required surgery. "I would look at it like background noise -- noise that's helping you out. Everybody expects us to win and that's great but it's not something we're going to focus on because it's not going to help us be better."

The Blue Jays suffered through a miserable 2012 season that included a 73-89 record, former shortstop Yunel Escobar getting suspended for wearing eye black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish during a game, and culminated with manager John Farrell jumping ship to the rival Boston Red Sox for what he called his "dream job."

But in a hectic two month of trades, signings and the rehiring of former manager John Gibbons, Anthopoulos has created a buzz in a city starved for a winner.

Bautista says now it's up to the players to deliver on all that promise.

"When you have such a competitive group put together on the same team you can't help but to feed off of each other and I'm sure that's what we're going to do," he said. "Nobody's going to have to press or overdo it because nobody has to be spectacular. Everybody just has to come in, do their job and as a group we're going to play pretty good baseball if everybody just does what they're capable of doing."

Bautista has even more reason to be happy with the roster makeover. After hitting a club-record 54 home runs in 2010, the 32-year-old has at times voiced his displeasure with the direction of the team since signing a long-term contract extension.

"They wanted to build the organization from within, get heavy on the draft, get a lot of players (and) have a strong minor-league system (to) put themselves in a position to be able to pull these kinds of moves you're seeing today," Bautista said. "We've got a pretty good team put together and when the season starts it's time to play ball."

Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind was on vacation in Mexico when November's trade with the Marlins brought Buehrle, Johnson and Reyes to Toronto.

"There were some Canadians down there and they let me know what happened," he said. "It just popped up out of nowhere, I checked the Internet and we're getting three of the best players from the National League over to our team. Hopefully we can get to the playoffs.

"It's a very exciting time to be a Blue Jay."

Toronto left-hander Brett Cecil says players from last year's roster are excited for spring training to meet their new teammates.

"Every one of those guys makes the team better," he said. "The starting staff that we have now is one of the best in baseball. I think on paper we're the best team in the AL East or even in (the majors). It's just a matter of going out and executing."

NOTES: Bautista updated his recovery from the wrist injury, saying he has full range of motion and is pain free. He has yet to face live pitching but has been in the batting cage five times a week. Bautista added that no determination has been made with regards to his participation at World Baseball Classic. ... The Blue Jays' winter tour will include stops in Winnipeg today followed by Saskatoon and Edmonton.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2013 B12

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