Jose Bautista's umpire battles

In the first inning of the worst spring training game ever last month, Jose Bautista took a pitch that may have been a little high, maybe a little outside, for strike two. He walked away from home plate, disgusted.

Never mind that the Blue Jays had already scored nine runs in the inning, against two young Yankees pitchers who struggled to throw strikes.
Never mind that this was in the middle of the exhibition season. Bautista was mad, and he did nothing to hide it.

He swung and missed at the next pitch, striking out, and slammed his bat against the ground angrily and stomped away from home plate. To repeat: It
was the first inning. The Blue Jays had just scored nine runs. It was in the middle of March.
Bautista's byplay with the umpires continues to spiral, and he talked about it the other day. He was being honest, but this cannot be a good thing for him.

From John Lott's piece:

The photos from opening night gained wide circulation in print and online: Jose Bautista, glaring over his shoulder as he walked away after a called third strike, firing a few choice words at umpire Jeff Nelson.

Typically for Bautista, the outburst was bold but brief. It also renewed discussion among fans and media about Bautista's sharp and conspicuous and relatively frequent protests against the judgment of plate umpires.

Asked about the subject by several reporters before Tuesday's game, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger said he was "a little irritated about the fact that everybody is trying to point the finger at me." He also said that when he checks video of disputed pitches, he finds that the umpire was wrong 70 percent to 80 percent of the time.

"Sometimes I have trouble more than other players dealing with my production being affected by somebody else's mediocrity," he said. "It's just the way I am as a person. It's a tougher pill to swallow for me sometimes."

Over the last few weeks, I had conversations with three catchers who are known to have good working relationships with umpires -- Alex Avila of the Tigers, Tampa Bay's Jose Molina, and the Dodgers' A.J. Ellis. Avila is known to have a good eye at the plate, and he mentioned to me that umpires will ask him from time to time whether they missed pitches -- when Avila is catching, or batting. And Avila's policy is to always, always provide 100 percent honesty. So if he takes a walk on a borderline pitch and the plate umpire asks him about it later, Avila -- who has an understated, genial demeanor -- will tell him exactly what he thinks, even if he believes the ball four call should've been a strike.

Molina and Ellis agreed completely, mentioning that they have similar conversations. The bottom line, the catchers explained, is that the umpires want to be the best at what they do and they will ask, from time to time, for immediate feedback.

But with Ellis, Avila and Molina, those conversations take place quietly, in the course of a day's work, without anybody else knowing about it, and with body language and tone that convey complete respect.

This is why what Bautista's handling of his disagreements is the equivalent of ramming a fist into a hornet's nest. It's not going to end well.

Bautista constantly reacts as if somebody stole his lunch money, suggests that the umpires are wrong 80 to 85 percent of the time, and views himself as being held back by their mediocrity. Maybe he's right; maybe he's wrong, at least a little.

But Frank Thomas learned over the course of his career that umpires just get fed up with the constant complaints, and if his goal is for the umpires to get better at what they do, he might learn from the examples of Molina, Avila and Ellis. It can't help him to react the way he does; it may hurt him.

• The Tigers' signing of Jose Valverde does not include a negotiated major league agreement. He's being brought in to throw in the minors, to give the Tigers a look -- and at this point, that's what he needs. If he stinks, Detroit will cut him. If it turns out that his weight loss has paid off, then the Tigers will sign him to a big league deal -- the parameters of which have already been discussed by Detroit and agent Scott Boras. There is zero risk for the Tigers.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

This relationship is borne out of desperation, writes Lynn Henning.

Josh Hamilton expects boos in Texas this weekend. He says he doesn't care what others think. With Hamilton in town, it's time for Rangers' fans to speak up, writes Gil LeBreton. Kevin Sherrington writes about why Rangers fans should cheer him.

We've got Angels-Rangers on "Sunday Night Baseball," Jered Weaver against Yu Darvish.

• Watching the Athletics play the last couple of days has been surreal, because we've grown accustomed over the last decade to Oakland having a pipsqueak offense. Well, the Athletics broke that mold last year, hitting a bunch of home runs, and when you watch them play now, you see big, aggressive swings, like they're the Gas-House Gorillas in the Bugs Bunny clip.

Check out the bullets hit by Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, among the many extra-base hits Oakland had Thursday. Meanwhile, Mike Morse has four homers in four games. Oakland split the series, as Steve Kroner writes.

• The Cubs' long-awaited Wrigley Field rehab deal is expected to go down by Monday.

• To paraphrase Dennis Green: The Nationals are who we think they are. They flashed their defense early, writes Thomas Boswell.

To paraphrase Dennis Green: The Marlins are who we think they are. One run in three games. And Giancarlo Stanton has one hit and three walks.

Brian McCann will continue his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery in Florida, and a reasonable expectation, at this point, is that he's back in the big leagues around May 1.

Trevor Bauer is getting the ball for the Indians this weekend, in place of Scott Kazmir. The Indians think he's got the best stuff of the candidates for this spot role, and Daisuke Matsuzaka simply isn't ready.

• How does cold weather impact hitters? Well, consider that 14 of the 30 teams have a starters' ERA of 3.00 or better so far. Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs was on the podcast Thursday and was great in describing the philosophy of pitching in those kinds of conditions.

• Steve Buffery thinks John Farrell was duplicitous, but doesn't think he's worth Toronto fans getting riled up over.

Dings and dents

1. The Orioles' Brian Roberts is headed for the disabled list, writes Eduardo Encina.

2. Stephen Drew will begin an injury rehabilitation assignment today.

3. The Yankees need more information on Hiroki Kuroda.

4. Sean Marshall is dealing with shoulder fatigue.

5. The Marlins are already shorthanded.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Bruce Bochy's new contract makes him the second highest-paid manager in the game, for something under $5 million a year. Mike Scioscia is the highest-paid.

2. The Astros acquired a reliever.

3. The Nationals are teaming with Bloomberg. This will aid their scouting and analytics, writes Amanda Comak.

4. Dunedin, Fla., is working to keep the Blue Jays.

Thursday's games

1. Chris Davis continues to wreck the baseball.

FROM ELIAS: Going back to Sept. 26 last year, Davis has hit 10 home runs in his last 10 regular-season games. He's the first player in Browns/Orioles franchise history to hit 10 or more homers over a personal ten-game span and only the second major leaguer to do so since 2007. Troy Tulowitzki slammed 11 home runs over a ten-game stretch for the Rockies in September 2010.

2. The White Sox had no answers for Jeremy Guthrie, as Mark Gonzales writes.

3. Carlos Marmol finished off the Pirates.

4. A Seattle rookie had a "welcome to the big leagues" moment, writes Ryan Divish.

5. The Blue Jays clubbed a bunch of homers.

6. Joe Girardi tends to downplay a lot, but even he acknowledged that Andy Pettitte's start Thursday was a pretty important game -- and Pettitte was terrific. And Mariano Rivera finished it, as Peter Botte writes.

FROM ELIAS: When Mariano Rivera (43) got the save in relief of Andy Pettitte (40) it was the first time in major league history that a 40-year-old pitched eight innings and then handed the ball to another 40-year-old for the save. It's the 17th time in MLB history a 40-year-old saved a game for another 40-year-old. It was the first major league game in which the winning and saving pitchers were both 40 years old since Aug. 9, 2008, when the Padres' Greg Maddux (age 42) won at Colorado and Trevor Hoffman (age 40) saved the victory for him.

7. The Reds took two of three from the Angels without much help from Joey Votto or Jay Bruce, writes Hal McCoy. It's worth saying again: The Reds might be the second-most-complete team in the majors, behind Washington.

8. Kris Medlen's streak came to an end.

9. Joe Blanton gave up some long balls.

10. Cliff Lee was The Man for the Phillies.

11. A ninth-inning rally by the Rays was derailed by a disputed call.

AL East

• The Red Sox have joined the growing number of teams that use acute defensive shifts, and so far it's working, writes Tim Britton.

• The taste of winning has left the Orioles yearning for more.

• John Gibbons is OK with his bullpen. It's a real puzzle that will have to be improved as the season progresses.

AL Central

• The Twins have had three good starts from their rotation so far. This time around, Tyler Robertson got the best of Prince Fielder.

• This week feeds hope for the Twins that they can hold down the pitching fort until the reinforcements arrive, writes Jim Souhan.

• Today is the best day of the year in Detroit, writes Jeff Seidel.

• The Royals' pitching has gone as planned.

FROM ELIAS: Jeremy Guthrie made his 2013 debut on Thursday and struck out nine White Sox batters in six innings while recording the Royals' first win of the season. Guthrie finished the 2012 season in excellent form, recording a 5-0 record and 2.17 ERA over his final 11 starts for Kansas City. He's now the first Royals pitcher to go undefeated over a stretch of 12 or more consecutive starts since Kevin Appier posted a streak of 13 straight starts without a loss spanning the 1994 and 1995 seasons.

AL West

• Chip Bailey implores Astros fans not to give up yet.

NL East

• The Mets' offense sputtered this week. They aren't alone.

Mike Minor is bagging the sinker he tried in spring training, writes Michael Cunningham.

• Rich Dubee says he's seeing improvement in Roy Halladay.

NL Central

Surgery saved Kyle Lohse's career.

Jason Grilli won't forget his first save.

• Dejan Kovacevic isn't ready to panic over the Pirates.

• The Cardinals have to watch the Giants celebrate today, as Derrick Goold writes.

Pete Kozma confounds the stat heads, writes Bernie Miklasz.

NL West

• This is a big day for Barry Zito.

Matt Kemp is remaining calm.

David Wright has high praise for Chase Headley.

Todd Helton will play in his 16th home opener today, as Troy Renck writes.

• The Rockies owner sees Coors Field as title town.

• The Diamondbacks hope they found an identity the other night.

Other stuff

• Reggie Jackson is going to auction off the jersey from the game he hit three homers in 1977.

• Harrison Ford fits Branch Rickey.

• The mayor of San Jose wants to meet with Bud Selig, writes John Shea.

• Seattle split its first series in the big leagues, and at the top of their minor league system, a couple of top prospects helped them win.

• The oldest living Dodger has some memories.

• Vanderbilt is ranked No. 2, at 26-4.

And today will be better than yesterday.