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Scutaro soars in leadoff role


Scutaro soars in leadoff role
Three hours before Sunday's 1-0 win over the Oakland A's, Blue Jays shortstop Marco Scutaro turned slowly in his chair to face a reporter.

Bleary eyed and a little hoarse, he answered questions in English and Spanish about batting at the top of the Jays' order.

If the 33-year-old Venezuelan seemed a little tired, he had a right to be.

After playing every game for a Venezuela squad that reached the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, Scutaro has also started each of the Jays' 14 regular-season games, batting leadoff and serving as a catalyst for the hottest offence in the majors.

So pardon his Sunday morning malaise.

Scutaro admitted he hasn't batted much leadoff in the past, but doesn't mind making the move.

"It's good," he said. "If I'm playing every day, I don't care where they put me."

Heading into tonight's game with Texas, Scutaro has 15 hits, 12 walks and has reached base in each game this season. His .418 on-base percentage ranks second on the team, while his 15 runs scored had him tied for the major-league lead through Sunday.

Manager Cito Gaston believes in Scutaro's ability to ignite the offence, but he doesn't see his shortstop a Jose Reyes clone. To say Scutaro became the leadoff hitter by default is an exaggeration, but not much of one.

Not that Gaston's complaining.

"He'd probably be better hitting second, but we don't have another (leadoff hitter)," he said. "He runs good but he doesn't have a leadoff hitter's speed that you would like ... (but) he has discipline up there (at the plate). He takes pitches. I give him the option to take or go ahead and swing."

Even though he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter - his seven steals last season were a career high - Scutaro has offered his best Rickey Henderson impression this month, taking extra bases and hitting for power.

In the ninth inning of Saturday's 4-2 12-inning win, he worked Oakland reliever Santiago Casilla for a walk and two pitches later took second on an Aaron Hill flyout. One pitch after that, he swiped third, his first stolen base of the season.

And Scutaro's four April home runs tie him with Hill for the team lead.

The base running is by design. Gaston said Scutaro decides on the field when to take an extra base and when to steal.

But Scutaro said the power surge at the plate isn't intentional, but rather a by-product of improved overall hitting.

When Gaston and hitting coach Gene Tenace arrived last June, Scutaro said he adjusted his batting stance by spreading his feet a little. And since then, they've drilled him constantly on rhythm, timing and consistency.

He might not expect to keep hitting homers but Scutaro, hitting .283, thinks he can keep banging out hits.

"The home runs came by themselves," he said. "I just try to put a good swing on the ball. But if the home runs come, I welcome them. ... I'm just trying to be more consistent with my stance and with my timing. That's the toughest part of hitting."

mcampbell @ thestar.ca


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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