On the Pirates: Jose Bautista, slugger?

Traded for third-string catcher, he has 13 home runs, second in majors

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When Jose Bautista was traded out of Pittsburgh two summers ago, he had just been sent to the bench, then to the minors. He was inconsistent, dissatisfied with his status and wondering about his future.

Today, his 13 home runs with the Toronto Blue Jays represent the second-highest total in Major League Baseball. Only the Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko has more, with 14.

What happened?

"Getting ready on time," Bautista said in an interview this week from Seattle, where the Blue Jays were facing the Mariners. "Getting ready late in my approach was breaking down my swing, and I didn't even realize it until I got to Toronto. The coaching staff here was great about pointing that out and giving me the guidance to correct it. So, being ready on time has allowed my swing and talent to take over."

He then caught himself.

"That being said, I have to be consistent with it."

That remains an issue: For all Bautista's power, highlighted by six home runs in his past eight games, as well as 34 RBIs, his average is at .238.

Still, it has been quite some coming out for this tirelessly working 29-year-old Dominican who spent almost all of his formative years in Pittsburgh until general manager Neal Huntington traded him Aug. 21, 2008, to Toronto for third-string catcher Robinzon Diaz, since released.

Just before Bautista was traded, he was told he would return to a utility role after batting .242 to that point in the season, with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs. When he expressed displeasure with that -- as almost all bench players do -- that was taken by some in management as a sign that he would be unhappy to stay with the Pirates. He was demoted to Class AAA Indianapolis for a week, then moved.

Bautista remains in touch with a few folks from his previous employer but otherwise apparently is not thinking much about proving anyone wrong.

"As people in Pittsburgh may know, I always believed I can be an everyday player," Bautista said. "It's working out pretty good now, so I'd like to keep my focus on that and the future."

His current salary is $2.4 million.

How other recently traded or released players of note are faring:

Jason Bay is batting .280 for the New York Mets, with one home run at cavernous Citi Field and 16 RBIs, well below power expectations with that four-year, $66 million.

Jack Wilson is on the disabled list in Seattle with a knee injury, openly questioning his future in the game after a series of leg injuries. His average is at .253 with seven doubles.

Ian Snell, now in the Mariners' bullpen after opening in the rotation, is 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA.

Freddy Sanchez made his season debut Wednesday after missing months to shoulder surgery.

Adam LaRoche has avoided his usual April swoon with Arizona, batting .282 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs.

Xavier Nady is platooning for the Chicago Cubs, is batting .211 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

Tom Gorzelanny is 2-4 for the Cubs but with a 3.09 ERA.

John Grabow, also with the Cubs, has an 8.44 ERA out of the bullpen.

Nate McLouth, in town this weekend with Atlanta, is at .198 with three home runs and 13 RBIs.

Jesse Chavez, in the Braves' bullpen, has a 7.23 ERA in 13 appearances.

Nyjer Morgan, Washington's leadoff man, is batting .260 with eight doubles and five triples.

Sean Burnett, in the Nationals' bullpen, has a 2.63 ERA and has walked only six in 20 appearances.

• Finally, Matt Capps, the only released player on this list, leads the majors with 16 saves for Washington, converting all of his opportunities with a 2.01 ERA.

Hill biding time

Perry Hill, widely recognized as baseball's best infield instructor, continues to sit mostly idle at his home in Lantana, Texas, while the Pirates continue to decline to release him from the second year of his two-year contract.

Hill elected not to return after 2009, a year in which the team led the majors in fielding percentage despite losing 99 games, in part because of disappointment with the trades of three-quarters of the infield in Wilson, Sanchez and LaRoche. Only Andy LaRoche remains.

With Hill having chosen not to return -- the Pirates very much wanted him back -- he is not being paid.

But, as for being mostly idle, it is difficult to imagine the active, involved Hill completely idle: He has spent some time teaching high school players in his area and, for a spell, even did a bit of holiday work at a local Costco.

Expect his phone to be ringing nonstop once released from his ties to the Pirates.

No more bobbleheads?

There is popular misconception that the Pirates lure big bunches of customers through fireworks and bobbleheads, at least as far as the bobbleheads.

While there once were as many as eight such giveaways a year, the total for 2010 will be one: Andrew McCutchen on Aug. 6. Even the much less collectible figurines are down to just the one Garrett Jones model given to fans Saturday night.

Lou DePaoli, the Pirates' chief marketing officer, explained: "Research on the impact of our promotional calendar from previous seasons, combined with our sponsors' desire for enhanced retail-driving promotions, led us to moving away from multiple bobblehead promotions. As the popularity cycle of promotions shifts, it's important that we shift our efforts with that. Thus, we incorporated many new promotions, giveaways and concert events."

Some franchises still give away bobbleheads even when they have no need to sell additional tickets: The Phillies on Tuesday gave away a Roy Halladay model just before the Pirates beat the actual pitcher. That was Philadelphia's 60th consecutive sellout crowd.

Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog .


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