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Former Pirate Bautista powers his way back to PNC Park

| Friday, May 2, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

Jose Bautista returned to Pittsburgh on Friday for the first time since he was traded to the Blue Jays in 2008. He returned as a much different player.

The Bautista who departed Pittsburgh was not thought to be an everyday player by many in baseball. The player returning Friday has averaged 38 home runs per year with Toronto, including a 54-homer season in 2010. He has become one of the unlikeliest stars in the sport thanks to an unusually violent swing.

Bautista told reporters before the series opener he has fond memories of playing in Pittsburgh. He also recalled where his career was in 2008 and how he embraced the trade.

“It was a relief for me (to be traded) because I knew what the (Pirates') outlook and perspective was about me here at that time … it was not a good outlook,” said Bautista, a 20th-round pick by the Pirates in 2000. “To send me down three weeks before rosters expanded (in 2008) it was a borderline low blow. Pretty much the message is sent by making that move.

“I did not have a future here. Going anywhere else would have been better than staying here.”

Bautista was in the Pirates' Opening Day lineup in 2008, but his playing time decreased during the season. He was hitting .242 with 12 home runs when the club demoted the then 27-year-old to Triple-A in August. He was traded for catcher Robinzon Diaz, now a minor-leaguer with the Brewers.

Bautista was asked how he is different as a player since leaving the Pirates, beyond the signature leg kick adopted with the Blue Jays.

“I'm not,” Bautista said.

So what did nearly everyone in baseball not see in him?

“That's a complicated question with a complicated answer,” Bautista said. “I think Neal Huntington and (former Pirates manager) John Russell are the guys who should answer that question. They are the ones who made the decision.”

Wrote Huntington in a text message on Friday: “Jose and the Blue Jays deserve all the credit. After being with the Jays for over a full season, something clicked, and Jose became the quality hitter he is today. We wish him all the best.”

Bautista acknowledged that he might not be the four-time All-Star he has become if not for the trade and change of scenery.

“I was more open to some of the suggestions because of that,” Bautista said. “Sometimes when you don't see the results right away you abandon the plan. I didn't have a choice in Toronto. It was either stick to it or get washed out.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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