Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

''I'm feeling great,'' Bautista said. ''I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off.''

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

''I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate,'' Bautista said. ''Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season.''

Toronto reached the AL Championship Series each of the last two seasons.

''I think we're comfortable with the group that we have,'' Bautista said. ''We just have to stay healthy, play hard and play together. Hopefully this season get a little deeper into the playoffs than we have the last two.''

The 36-year-old Bautista was slowed by injuries last season and hit .234 with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs. He then became a free agent before returning to Toronto on a one-year deal. He had been am All-Star for six straight seasons before his drop-off.

Bautista would like to play in the WBC again.

''It's a great time,'' Bautista said. ''We love playing for our teams. It's a different pride element, a patriotic pride.''

Bautista is calling for major league regular season or spring training games, or the WBC, to be played in the Dominican Republic.

''I'm sure that the interested parties are going to be doing work to make that happen,'' Bautista said. ''Hopefully it does happen. I think our fellow countrymen, our fans deserve to watch a major league game.''

JOHN'S JOB

The Blue Jays and manager Joe Gibbons are working to finalize a multiyear contract extension.

Gibbons is in the final season of his current deal.

''It's always a nice reward,'' Gibbons said. ''I wasn't obsessed with it. This organization has been great to me over the years. I'm pretty happy, pretty excited.''

Gibbons and general manager Ross Atkins talked about a deal briefly after last season, and renewed discussions at spring training.

''It kind of picked up a little steam,'' Gibbons said.

HOUSE'S HEALTH

Reliever T.J. House is taking part in a throwing program at the Blue Jays' minor league complex two weeks after getting hit in the head by batted ball.

''I think he's going to be in game action real soon,'' Gibbons said.

House was taken off the field in an ambulance March 10 after getting struck in the ninth inning of a game against the Tigers. He was hospitalized overnight, then released.

TORONTO TIDBITS

Second baseman Devon Travis (right knee) is set to play in his first big league exhibition game Friday. His status for the start of the regular season has not been determined.

''We've got to be smart,'' Gibbons said. ''If it costs us a couple extra weeks, so be it.''

Third baseman Josh Donaldson (right calf) played defense for the first time after making his debut as the designated hitter Monday.

Outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. will probably be out a few days due to shoulder soreness.

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