Braves bring up Bautista from minors to start at third base

FILE - In this June 20, 2017, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista follows through on a fly out to center in the fourth inning of a baseball game as Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right, watches, in Arlington, Texas. Six-time All-Star Jose Bautista and the Atlanta Braves have agreed to a minor league contract. Under the deal announced Wednesday, April 18, 2018, Bautista would receive a $1 million, one-year deal if added to the 40-man major league roster. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

ATLANTA (AP) Jose Bautista stopped short of saying he won’t be flipping bats with the Atlanta Braves.

He’s still Joey Bats, after all.

”I don’t consider it part of my repertoire as a player,” Bautista said with a smile. ”I’m just looking to contribute on the field and help these guys win ballgames.”

Bautista returned to the major leagues Friday after the Braves selected his contract from Triple-A Gwinnett. The 37-year-old was fifth in the batting order against San Francisco and doubled off the center-field wall in his first at-bat.

Unable to find a job during the offseason, Bautista agreed to a minor league contract with the Braves on April 18 and hit .250 with one homer and eight RBIs at Gwinnett. He will get $819,672, a prorated share of his $1 million salary.

Atlanta wanted the six-time All-Star to play third base, a position he had not seen much time at since 2011. He had two errors in 30 chances at Gwinnett.

Bautista replaces Ryan Flaherty and Johan Camargo as Atlanta’s primary third baseman.

”I just felt like my body was ready,” Bautista said. ”I got enough at-bats to where it’s similar to spring training. That doesn’t guarantee anything up here so I’ve just got to do what I expect out of myself when the games start.”

Atlanta had won five straight entering Friday, moving into the NL East lead. The Braves outfield is set with Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr., the youngest position player in the major leagues.

Bautista earned $18 million under a one-year deal with Toronto last season but put up subpar numbers for the second straight year, hitting .203 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs in 157 games.

He spent the last 10 seasons with the Blue Jays, who last season had a testy three-game series in Atlanta. Freddie Freeman was hit by a pitch and had his wrist broken in the first game. Bautista flipped his bat after homering in the second game, causing both benches to empty, and he was hit by a payback pitch from Julio Teheran in the third game.

Joey Bats has been flipping bats for years, but Bautista wants to keep his focus on helping the Braves win.

”I know I’m known for that,” he said. ”I did it once, or maybe more than that, but one really big one.”

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