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MacArthur: Bonifacio coming around for Blue Jays

Scott MacArthur
5/17/2013 1:52:38 PM
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NEW YORK - Emilio Bonifacio has been a nomad his entire major league career.

An offensive threat because he's speedy on the base paths and useful defensively as both an infielder and outfielder, he's never found a home, a place on the field he can call his own.

For the moment, though, Bonifacio can settle. There is a spot for him in manager John Gibbons' lineup.

"I think he's starting to get some steady at bats," said Gibbons when asked why Bonifacio was emerging from a slow start. "Early on he was struggling and we were trying to figure out what was the best lineup to throw out there so he was kind of the odd man out a lot of the times. We committed to it a few days ago, let's give him a shot and he's responded."

Baseball people say it often: good or bad, hitting is contagious.

Bonifacio, like most of his Blue Jays teammates, was caught up in a six-week, season-opening offensive malaise that contributed to the club's ugly 13-24 record prior to its current four-game winning streak.

He was 13-for-83 (.157) before a three-game surge (6-for-12) that's lifted his batting average to the Mendoza Line (.200.) While Bonifacio has struck out in almost 28 per cent of his plate appearances – a ghastly amount for anyone, let alone someone who doesn't hit for power – he's been a contributor to the recent hit parade that has seen the Blue Jays score 36 runs on 49 hits in four games.

"It's my timing," said Bonifacio. "It's kind of just get back and just ready to swing. Being a little bit more aggressive, I think that's the difference."

Bonifacio's defensive play has improved but has been inconsistent. In April he struggled at second base, particularly with throws and double play turns. In centerfield, on the odd occasion when he would fill in for Colby Rasmus, the downgrade was noticeable.

Of late, he's begun to earn Gibbons' trust. In fact, with Rajai Davis relegated to the disabled list thanks to a strained oblique, Bonifacio is poised to land himself regular work, splitting time at second base and leftfield.

Against right-handers, he'd play second.

When a left-hander is on the mound, Gibbons intends to have Melky Cabrera come off the field as the designated hitter to give his ailing legs a rest. Adam Lind, the DH against right-handers, moves to the bench. Left field is open for Bonifacio.

It's the story of Bonifacio's career. He'll play regularly, just not in one place.

"It's something that I've been working at the last couple of years," said Bonifacio, a natural second baseman, of preparing to play multiple positions. "It's something that you just try to set up where you're going to be and make adjustments. It's more the angle because I'm not going to tell you a lie, it's a little bit difficult but you have to deal with it."

Bonifacio is a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts but the number is a far cry from the pace he set in an injury-plagued 2012, when he swiped 30 bases in 64 games.

The problem is, despite the recent hot streak, he hasn't been getting on base enough (.230 on-base percentage through Wednesday.) The ability to bunt for a base hit, a trademark of low-power, high-speed players, has eluded Bonifacio.

He's spent time with first base coach Dwayne Murphy, an outfielder with good speed in his playing days, in an attempt to rectify the problem. Bonifacio's put too much weight on his front foot when he squares to bunt, which has left him lunging at the ball.

"I've been taking too many pitches for strikes and bunting foul a lot," said Bonifacio. "(Murphy) was telling me my bat was a little bit in the back of the box so I tried to get my timing back and put my bat in fair territory."

If Bonifacio can add the bunt to his repertoire he'll become a bottom-of-the-lineup threat.

After an inauspicious start in Toronto, Bonifacio's value to the club – anticipated when he was acquired in the mega-deal with Miami – is becoming clearer as his bat heats up.


ROMERO'S STRUGGLES CONTINUE

As was the case in his first start for Triple-A Buffalo last Saturday, Ricky Romero failed to get out of the fourth inning in Thursday's 6-4 Bisons victory over Indianapolis.

Romero went 3.2 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits. He walked six and struck out one. Only 44 of Romero's 86 pitches were strikes.

In two starts for the Bisons, Romero has allowed seven earned runs and walked 11 hitters in 7.1 innings.


OFFENCE MUST PRODUCE IN NEW YORK

Friday's series opener against New York will provide a test the Blue Jays' suddenly resurgent bats.

Here's how the three Yankees' scheduled starting pitchers have fared against the Blue Jays in 2013:

Friday – Hiroki Kuroda (2 starts, 1-0, 2.70 ERA)
Saturday – David Phelps (2 relief appearances, 0-0, 5.14 ERA)
Sunday – CC Sabathia (1 start, 1-0, 3.38 ERA)

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