---- — After never hitting more than 16 homers in any of his first six big league seasons, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista came out of nowhere at age 29 to lead the majors with 54 long balls in 2010.
Two years later, his teammate Edwin Encarnacion is doing something similar.
Encarnacion, 29, set a new career-high for home runs with his 27th blast Thursday. He is on pace to smash 45 long balls.
A .265 career hitter, Encarnacion entered Friday’s game batting .299 with a .393 on-base percentage, .591 slugging percentage, .984 OPS, 27 homers and 70 RBIs. Can he keep it up?
Well, the Blue Jays front office obviously thinks so.
Earlier this month, Toronto signed Encarnacion to a three-year, $27 million contract extension that begins next season.
A lot of sluggers enjoy hitting at Toronto’s Roger Centre. Encarnacion certainly is one of them.
”The ball flies there so that’s why maybe everybody likes it,” Encarnacion said. “Wherever you hit the ball, the ball’s going to jump.”
The slugger recently went one-on-one with The Eagle-Tribune.
Eagle-Tribune: Did you do anything differently this past offseason to help make yourself a better hitter? Encarnacion: Definitely, yes. I worked out with Luis Mercedes, the same hitting coach of Robinson Cano. We worked out this offseason, and I think that’s all the difference for me for this year. He made me get my swing shorter and finish with two hands so I can stay more inside the ball.
I just to try be aggressive in the strike zone, looking for my pitch.
E-T: Has teammate Jose Bautista helped you at all?
Encarnacion: We’re always talking about baseball and the thing we’re talking about (most) is working out in the offseason. Like getting in shape, work out at the gym so you can come here healthy and play all season long.
The last two years I was hurt too much. So that’s what I decided to do: continue to work hard in the offseason, get a trainer so I can get my workout better. E-T: Are you at all surprised at the power numbers and other offensive stats you’re posting this season? Encarnacion: No surprise because I know the potential. God blessed me with my talents. So I know if I play all year long and I’d be healthy, I know I could put up some of the numbers of what I’m doing right now. E-T: Being from the Dominican Republic, were you a big Pedro Martinez or David Ortiz fan or a big fan of some other Dominican major leaguer while growing up? Encarnacion: When I grew up, I was watching Andujar Cedeno. He played for Houston. He’s from my city — from La Romana. And that’s why I follow him. He’s not like a big guy but the things he do for my city that made me follow him. E-T: Is there one major league player who you would like to sit down and talk hitting with? Encarnacion: I’ve been talking a lot this year with Albert Pujols. He’s one of my best friends, too. So we always keep in touch. Like every week we talk. It’s great to talk to people like that about baseball and about hitting, especially with Pujols, the guy being in the league raking for (12) years. It’s good having people like that around you. E-T: Did you hang out when the Angels and Blue Jays played?
Encarnacion: We go eat together even when we (were) in Anaheim and when they go to Toronto, too.
E-T: How did you get to be good friends with Pujols? Encarnacion: I met Pujols in 2001 when I was in Low-A. He was already in the big leagues. I go to watch a game in Cincinnati, a big league game. So I know somebody and they know Pujols. He (introduced) him to me. You don’t see that often: an All-Star player talking with people (in Single-A). So he’s a great guy. He’s unbelievable.
E-T: Who would you rank as the three best hitters in baseball? Encarnacion: For me, Pujols is No. 1. No doubt about it. I think Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera.
E-T: What do you like about Cano and Cabrera that put them up there with Pujols? Encarnacion: (Cabrera) has power to right field, center field, left field — and he can hit for average, too. He doesn’t get many infield hits so he’s got to hit the ball hard to get on base. (Cano has) got power. He can hit 30 homers. He has one of the best swings I’ve ever seen in the big leagues. When he finishes, he stays balanced. E-T: Do you watch a lot of video of your swing and opposing pitchers or do you just look at scouting reports? Encarnacion: I (look at) scouting reports but the best scouting report I have is in the computer. When I see (how) I look, that’s the best scouting report I have. I watch different (pitchers) so I can see what they are throwing. Every day I look at my video and the pitcher I’m going to face and see how he threw me last time and everything. I started doing more the last three years. I had somebody (Aramis Ramirez) tell me (to do more). E-T: Do you hit in the cage a lot before batting practice? Encarnacion: I get my T and work with my T. I don’t swing more than maybe 20 swings. Depends on how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling good, I don’t swing many. If I’m swinging bad, I swing until I feel ready to go. E-T: What is it like having Omar Vizquel as a teammate, a guy who has been playing in the big leagues for 24 years and still is playing at 45 years old? Encarnacion: He’s great. He’s like an example for every young player. He’ll always be here early or working out, always doing his routine. It’s good to have people like that on the team so the young guys can follow and see what he do.
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays Position : First Baseman/DH Height/Weight : 6-2, 230 Twitter name : @Encadwin (32,013 followers as of Friday) 2012 salary : $3.5 million Contract : Will earn $8 million next year, $9 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015 and Toronto has a $10 million team option and $2 million buyout in 2016. Fast Fact : Drafted by the Texas Rangers in the ninth round in 2000, the same year Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was drafted first overall.