Blue Jays-Tigers Preview

DETROIT -- Jose Bautista might be the majors' unusual leadoff hitter. The Toronto Blue Jays plan to keep him there a little while longer.

The Blue Jays have an 11-6 record since manager John Gibbons elevated the 35-year-old slugger to the top spot in the order. Bautista, who is two home runs shy of 300 for his career, has hit five home runs and walked 10 times while hitting safely in 12 of those 17 games.

Bautista will likely be the first batter when the Blue Jays wrap up a three-game series at Detroit on Wednesday. Toronto dropped the first two, including a 3-2, 10-inning loss on Tuesday.

"We've been winning, that's the bottom line," Gibbons said. "I still don't view him as a leadoff guy and eventually he may not be there. The benefit is he might get that extra at-bat. The top three guys might get an extra at-bat that they otherwise might not get."

Bautista has some qualities that add to his leadoff appeal. He has walked an American League-high 45 times and ranks among the top 10 in pitches per plate appearance. He has a .359 on-base percentage despite batting .223.

"He's got a great eye," Gibbons said. "He's going to take his walks and get on base. Hopefully, he sets it up for the next few. It still looks odd hitting him leadoff."

The Blue Jays might eventually move second baseman Devon Travis to leadoff but Travis is batting just .174.

"We've been debating since last winter who was going to be our leadoff guy," Gibbons said. "That was kind of a constant topic. Personally, I didn't think (Bautista) would be too excited about it, to be honest with you, but he was."

Bautista has only faced the Tigers' scheduled starter, Jordan Zimmermann, four times with one hit. Zimmermann is tied for second place in the American League with eight victories, including his last start on Friday, when he held the Chicago White Sox to two runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Zimmermann missed his previous outing with a mild groin strain.

"I should be fine," Zimmermann said. "I haven't had any issues this week. I should be able to go 110 or 115 (pitches) or whatever they need. No limitations and everything feels good."

The Tigers have held opponents during their season-high-tying five-game winning streak to a total of 11 runs. Their starting staff has stabilized through the efforts of Zimmermann, longtime ace Justin Verlander and rookie sensation Michael Fulmer.

"We've been pitching well lately," said Zimmermann, who will be opposed by veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. "Fulmer's been lights out and Ver has been pitching great for a bunch of starts in a row. I feel like we're starting to click and come together."

Dickey has the most losses (six) and second-worst ERA (4.21) among Toronto's starting five but he's coming off a win over Boston on Friday. He held the Red Sox without an earned run in 6 2/3 innings despite issuing five walks.


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