ATLANTA -- Jose Bautista has closely monitored the Braves since his former boss and close friend Alex Anthopoulos joined the organization to run the baseball operations department in November. There was a long stretch when the two former Blue Jays began to doubt the possibility of being reunited in Atlanta.But
ATLANTA -- Jose Bautista has closely monitored the Braves since his former boss and close friend Alex Anthopoulos joined the organization to run the baseball operations department in November. There was a long stretch when the two former Blue Jays began to doubt the possibility of being reunited in Atlanta.
But one month into this season and far removed from the frustration felt while remaining unsigned throughout the offseason, Bautista has been added to a dynamic Braves' lineup with the hope that he can simply aid the unanticipated playoff hopes that have been enriched over the past couple weeks in Atlanta.
"It feels weird wearing different colors," Bautista said before he made his Braves' debut during Friday night's series opener against the Giants at SunTrust Park. "I'm excited about this new opportunity and just getting ready to go into battle with these guys. It's going to be a long summer, but hopefully a great one. We can make it go by a lot faster by winning a lot of games."
The 37-year-old veteran hit a ringing double in his first at-bat and ended up 1-for-4 with two strikeouts during the Braves' 9-4 loss Friday. He will serve as the primary third baseman for the Braves, who have vaulted to the top of the National League East standings with the help of an offense that has easily scored more runs than any other NL club this season.
"He didn't even get that ball very well and it almost went out to the deepest part of the park," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said of Bautista's first-inning double. "He's a good hitter. He's a professional hitter. I think today was a good day for him to get a hit out of the way. Now, hopefully, he can settle in and be the guy we're used to seeing."
Bautista's arrival has been anticipated since he signed a Minor League deal with Atlanta on April 18. He has spent the past couple of weeks making up for the normal preparations he was not able to make as he remained a free agent throughout Spring Training and the first couple weeks of the season.
Bautista hit .256 and produced a .768 OPS over the 12 games he played at Triple-A Gwinnett and Class A Advanced Florida. He went 5-for-16 with a double and a homer in his final four games for Gwinnett. Bautista was not in the lineup for Thursday night's game.
Coming off a season in which he hit .203 with 23 homers and a .674 OPS for the Blue Jays, Bautista might be far removed from the potential he had when he totaled 227 home runs during the six-season span (2010-15) within which Anthopoulos served as his GM in Toronto. But there's hope he still has enough pop to complement the power-speed mix possessed within the Atlanta lineup that includes Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and a rejuvenated Nick Markakis.
"It's hopefully going to be an easy transition for me, just not feeling like I need to do everything for a ballclub," Bautista said. "It's not that I've ever felt like I was in that position before. But because they're playing so good and scoring so many runs, it's a little bit more relaxed of an atmosphere."
With his arrival, Bautista will be Atlanta's primary third baseman. He spent most of the past decade as an outfielder for the Blue Jays. But Bautista primarily played third base during the early portion of his career and got a few spot starts at the position over the past few years.
The Braves have used Ryan Flaherty and Johan Camargo as their third basemen this year. Both will now primarily be used off the bench. But because Dansby Swanson is still dealing with some left wrist discomfort, Camargo could get a couple more starts at shortstop this weekend.
The big question for Bautista is how he'll handle third base, where he has started only six games since 2012. Infield coordinator Adam Everett worked extensively with Bautista and was encouraged by what he saw, giving the Braves enough confidence to put Bautista at the hot corner. Bautista started 25 games at third base in 2011 with Toronto and has started 349 games there overall during his career.
So why would Atlanta, an up-and-coming team built largely around youth, bring in a 14-year veteran who drew little to no interest on the free-agent market?
For starters, Bautista's big league salary will be $1 million prorated, which means the Braves will pay him about $800,000 if he remains with the club for the remainder of the season.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Mark Feinsand contributed.