KANSAS CITY -- The American League Championship Series has become a grueling test of Jose Bautista's patience. The Blue Jays' No. 3 hitter badly wants to do damage in run-scoring opportunities, but the Royals aren't giving him all that much to hit. And so Bautista is constantly fighting himself, toeing the line between taking what's given and expanding his zone to make something happen.
Bautista has drawn seven walks heading into Friday's Game 6 (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, 8 p.m. game time) at Kauffman Stadium. That's three more than anybody else in this ALCS and just one shy of the record for unintentional walks in a League Championship Series, with as many as two games left.
"They're not really challenging me, except for a few at-bats and a few counts here and there," Bautista said after the Blue Jays' 7-1 win in Wednesday's Game 5. "They're not really coming after me at all. That's what I have to do -- force them into throwing the ball over the plate."
For the most part, Bautista has done that. Fifty-five of the 80 pitches he's seen have been outside the strike zone and the 35-year-old right-handed hitter only swung at 10 of them. Bautista walked in four of his first seven plate appearances in this series, then twice more in Game 3 and once in Game 5 -- to cap a monumental 10-pitch at-bat that loaded the bases in a gamebreaking sixth inning.
Behind Bautista is Edwin Encarnacion, battling intermittent pain in his left middle finger and mustering only four hits in 19 ALCS at-bats. Two spots after that is Troy Tulowitzki, 7-for-38 in the postseason before his bases-clearing double in Wednesday's sixth.
Ned Yost insists he isn't necessarily pitching around Bautista, regardless of what the numbers might say. The Royals' manager mentioned the menacing trio of hitters in the heart of Toronto's lineup -- starting with Josh Donaldson and continuing with Bautista and Encarnacion -- and believes they're all dangerous, including a banged-up Encarnacion.
"You're kind of playing with fire a little bit pitching around any of those guys with those guys behind them," Yost said befofre his team's workout at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday.
"You have to have that mindset that, 'I'm not giving in. I'm going to make my pitch. And if I don't make my pitch, I'm going to try to eliminate as much damage as you can, and end up giving a walk instead of a homer.' But if you continue to execute pitches, you're going to be in good shape."
The only players to draw more unintentional walks in an LCS were Frank Thomas (with the 1993 White Sox) and Manny Ramirez (2007 Red Sox), both with eight. Robin Ventura batted behind Thomas and Mike Lowell batted behind Ramirez. Both were solid third basemen with occasional pop, but neither was necessarily as feared as Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion or Tulowitzki.
If lineup protection truly exists, Bautista should, in theory, benefit from being nestled in the middle of baseball's most feared lineup.
Instead, he's starving for strikes, doing his best to take advantage of what little opportunities he gets. In the 15 plate appearances that haven't ended in a walk, Bautista has four hits and five strikeouts. Those strikeouts, he believes, are a product of those times when his patience runs thin and his zone expands.
"What can I do?" Bautista said. "I want to make something happen, especially with men on base, but I have to be patient enough to swing at strikes. It's a tough act, balancing those things out."