Pirates Notebook: Bautista's glove has been golden
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It was thought that the Pirates might sacrifice defense when they moved Freddy Sanchez off third base. And with good cause: Sanchez's .981 fielding percentage in 2006 was the best in Major League Baseball at the position.
Remarkably, though, they might well have found an upgrade in Jose Bautista.
Among all third basemen in the majors with 20 or more games at the position, he is one of three with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. No errors.
He has achieved this despite having 84 total chances. Only the Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman has been busier.
His 3.48 range factor, a statistic that measures a player's ability to get to the ball, ranks No. 1.
The six double plays he has started are tied for second-most.
On top of all that, he has turned in more than his share of spectacular plays, not the least of which was his sprinting-back corral of a bloop down the left-field line Sunday.
"Jose Bautista has been absolutely tremendous," manager Jim Tracy said. "The maturation that has taken place with this player has been something to see."
It has not come by accident. Bautista is near-obsessive about all facets of his fielding, from taking extra practice daily to studying video to see how the ball comes off opponents' bats.
The latter paid off with a fine play last week, when the Houston Astros' Carlos Lee grounded sharply his way. Rather than back off and wait for a friendly bounce, Bautista charged the ball. He did not grab it cleanly, as it skipped off his glove. But he kept it in front of him and fired across the diamond in time.
"Carlos Lee's ball always has a little bit of top-spin on it," Bautista said. "You can't wait for it to play you, or it'll be right by you."
Bautista was cast as a utilityman last season, but he has started all 24 games at third base this season. And it is that comfort level, he maintains, that has meant the most.
"I'm at one place, and I put all my efforts into getting better there. It's helped me a lot."
Nady has setback
Outfielder Xavier Nady had a small setback in his recovery from a strained left hamstring and did not run yesterday. In running Sunday, he felt what he described as "a little grab" with his final sprint.
Nady could resume running today, but he will not start the final two games of this homestand.
Tracy not only kept Ryan Doumit's sizzling bat in the lineup but also bumped him up to fifth. He would not make promises about how long Doumit might start, but he did acknowledge the glaring need for offense: "You don't have a choice. You have to get a player like that in the lineup."
Tracy has made clear that Tony Armas, the starter tonight, is not on a short leash. Even so, the heat surely will rise if Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft, continues to pitch brilliantly for Class AAA Indianapolis. Bullington threw seven shutout innings yesterday in Ottawa and is 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA.
Fan balloting begins today for the All-Star Game, July 10 in San Francisco. There are eight Pirates on the ballot: Bautista, Nady, Sanchez, Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, Chris Duffy and Ronny Paulino.