Jose Bautista was once one of the league’s preeminent sluggers, a home-run threat capable of turning a game on a dime. But these days, the bat-flipping, Rougned Odor-brawling 39-year-old is more concerned with hurling heaters than swinging for the fences.
In fact, Mets ace Marcus Stroman thinks his neighbor and former Toronto teammate is ready to pitch in the big leagues right now. To prove it, Stroman (who is failing miserably at social distancing) posted a series of clips highlighting the six-time All-Star’s pitching repertoire. Seen throwing off a makeshift mound in what appears to be Stroman’s driveway, the 15-year MLB vet gave the Twitterverse a glimpse of his slider while also mixing in a surprisingly filthy glove-side sinker. Per Stroman, who appears to be embracing his new role as Bautista’s unofficial hype man, Joey Bats has also been known to drop in a changeup or two.
No radar-gun readings were available from Tuesday’s pen session, though according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Bautista’s fastball can reach a crisp 94 mph. To put that in perspective, reigning American League Cy Young winner Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros averaged 94.7 mph on his four-seamer last season. Amazingly, the novice Bautista is already throwing at a faster clip than his pitching mentor Stroman, whose average heater clocked in at 92.5 mph in 2019.
Bautista’s experimentation with pitching isn’t just a fun side project. Before the global COVID-19 outbreak forced the Olympics’ postponement, Bautista was planning to represent his native Dominican Republic in the Tokyo Games as a two-way player in the mold of Angels prodigy Shohei Ohtani or the similarly versatile Brendan McKay. The free agent last suited up in 2018, contributing an underwhelming .203 average with 13 homers and 48 RBI across 399 plate appearances for the Braves, Mets and Phillies. Bautista has played a variety of positions—first, second, third base and all three outfield positions—but has never made a major-league pitching appearance.