Hot hitting earns Bautista starting spot

Bautista earns starting spot with bat

ST. LOUIS -- After going from being the Pirates' everyday third baseman into a platoon situation, Jose Bautista is making his third start of the series at the hot corner on Monday. That's what back-to-back three- and four-hit games will do.

The opening Bautista needed to jump back into a more regular starting role came eight days ago when Doug Mientkiewicz was forced out of the lineup with the flu. As a result, what had been nearly a two-week situation in which Bautista would start primarily against left-handed starters and Mientkiewicz against right-handers was put on hold.

Getting consistent at-bats against righties, as well as extra time with hitting coach Don Long, have the Pirates believing that Bautista's early-season offensive woes may be making a turn for the better.

"I see a much better approach," manager John Russell said. "I think he's worked the count a little more in the last few games that he's played. I think it's helping him see the ball better and he's getting better pitches to hit."

Bautista hasn't missed them either. With 10 hits on this road trip, Bautista has upped his season average from .220 to .259 coming into Monday's game, which is as high as his batting average has been this season. And to put it into even more perspective, prior to these series in Cincinnati and St. Louis, Bautista had just five hits since May 8.

"I just think I haven't been missing too many pitches," said Bautista, who has three RBIs in his last two games. "I've been trying to stay short and just putting the ball in play. It's been working so far, so I'll try to continue to do that."

He has eight hits in three games this series (two starts and one pinch-hit appearance). Also, he has once again been slotted into the lineup against right-handed pitching lately, even with Mientkiewicz healthy and once again available.

"Sometimes it gets frustrating not to get the results, it definitely makes it easier and lets me relax more," Bautista said. "It definitely helps."

Including Monday's game against right-hander Adam Wainwright, Bautista has now started four of the last five games facing right-handed starting pitching.

While Russell never put the platoon label on his third base situation, he continues to be non-committal on how he plans to use Mientkiewicz and Bautista moving forward. However, it seems pretty certain that Bautista will continue to be in the lineup as long as this offensive tear continues.

"He's a little more under control and using the whole field again," Russell said. "I think he's starting to get himself back on track. Hopefully it's coming to fruition now that he's doing some things that he's capable of doing."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.