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John Gibbons on Jose Bautista: ‘I’ve never seen him look so good’

The early returns on the Toronto Blue Jays’ decision to re-sign Jose Bautista are quite promising. Just ask Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.

“Tell you what, I’ve never seen him look so good,” Gibbons said Thursday of the 36-year-old Bautista, via the Toronto Sun. “He’s in great shape, he looks stronger, he’s in a good frame of mind.”

It didn’t appear at several points this past offseason that Bautista would have the chance to impress his skipper at spring training. Bautista in November declined a $17.2 million qualifying offer before ultimately signing a one-year, $18 million deal in January, one that includes options that could keep the 36-year-old slugger in Toronto through 2019.

The encouraging words from Gibbons on Bautista, who arrived at Blue Jays camp early, are especially enlightening given the slugger had a disappointing 2016 campaign. Two stints on the disabled list — one due to a turf toe injury and the other a Grade 1 sprain in his left knee — limited Bautista to 116 games, his lowest total since 2012. In those games, Bautista slashed a .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 87 RBI.

Gibbons acknowledged Bautista’s downturn at the plate in his comments Thursday.

“Last year he ran into the wall,” said Gibbons. “Those aren’t injuries that happened because he’s wearing down. They were freak things and they cost him a lot of games. I think if he played those games he would have been up in similar (offensive) categories where he always is. But he’s in a good frame right now, he’s playing good.”

Gibbons also acknowledged Bautista would likely return to his No. 3 spot in the batting order after being bumped up to leadoff at one point last season. Although he will do so without Edwin Encarnacion hitting behind him, which means the Blue Jays will need Bautista to return to form and anchor the top of the batting order.