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Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hoping for a return to form after 2 years of injuries

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DUNEDIN, Fla. - Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hopes to hit one big goal this year — staying healthy.

Bautista has finished the last two seasons on the disabled list. An injured left wrist stopped him in 2012 and a badly bruised left hip forced him out of the lineup last year.

Before those problems, Bautista led the majors in home runs for two straight years.

"I know that both injuries that I've had — the ones that have actually took me out of the lineup for an extended period of time — were from impact plays or just a freak accident with the wrist," Bautista said Friday after the team's first full-squad spring workout.

"It's not because I was neglecting my training regimen or anything like that. But it is disappointing and it is upsetting that I don't get to go out there and finish the season with the team and finish strong," he said.

After the four-time All-Star outfielder missed a combined 14 games in 2010-11, the wrist injury that required surgery limited Bautista to just 90 games in 2012.

Then, last season, he batted .259 with 28 home runs before his bad hip sidelined him for the final month.

Now the 33-year-old Bautista is eager to prove he can stay on the field and return to being the player who set a club record with 54 home runs in 2010.

Bautista said he began preparations for 2014 early in the off-season and spent time working out in Tampa with teammate Melky Cabrera.

Cabrera has dealt with injuries of his own, leading to the discovery of a benign tumour in his spine, which was surgically removed in September.

"It was kind of easy and natural and we just decided to start earlier than we normally do," Bautista said. "We are both coming off injuries and we wanted to try to get into the best shape of our lives before spring training started."

For manager John Gibbons, Bautista's absence meant more than a lack of run production. It was the loss of his natural leadership abilities on the field and inside the clubhouse.

"I think Jose is a natural leader. We've just got to keep him healthy," Gibbons said. "He's been banged up a little bit the last couple years."

"We need him for a good six months," he said.

True for several other Toronto players, too.

"Injuries went the wrong way for us and, actually, that's been the case for the last two years," Bautista said. "If it's luck, if it's whatever it might have been, hopefully it changes this year. The only thing we need is to remain healthy. If that's taken care of, everything else is going to fall into place."

NOTES: RHP Liam Hendriks was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles. The 25-year-old Australian native went 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA in 10 games last season with the Minnesota Twins. INF Brent Morel was designated for assignment.

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