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Encarnacion confident bat will start to heat up

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TORONTO -- Edwin Encarnacion has gotten off to a slow start this season, but it's not exactly unfamiliar territory for a player who has been one of the most reliable hitters in the American League over the past two years.

Encarnacion began his 2013 campaign in a similar fashion. Through 20 games, he was hitting just .200 (15-for-75) with a .592 OPS and four extra-base hits. This year, he has a .228 average with a .661 OPS and seven exta-base hits entering Wednesday evening's game.

The issue has been timing at the plate as Encarnacion admitted he has been starting his swing a little late, but hoped that his three-run home run during Tuesday night's 9-3 win over Baltimore is a sign things are about to change.

"Sometimes, when it's early, you try to do too much and you just have to get your timing right," Encarnacion said. "I know it's going to be right, I just feel a lot better, so I hope to continue to do the same approach I did [Tuesday]."

This isn't an uncommon problem to have early in the season. A lot of hitters across the Majors are battling the same type of issues and that's why one of the general assumptions across baseball every year is that the pitchers have the advantage early in the season.

If Encarnacion is on the verge of heating up at the plate it can only mean good things for the heart of Toronto's lineup. Opposing teams have been consistently pitching around Jose Bautista, but so far Encarnacion has struggled to make them pay by hitting just .185 (5-for-27) with runners in scoring position.

Bautista entered play on Wednesday night with the Major League lead in walks with 25. He has reached base in all of his 20 games this season and a trend has emerged where Bautista can go through multiple at-bats in a game without seeing a good pitch to hit. Once Encarnacion starts hitting the way he's capable, it's very likely that pitchers will think twice before automatically pitching around Bautista.

"I thought he had a good road trip, there were some games he was swinging the bat pretty good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Encarnacion. "Normally, that's what gets everybody, it's usually a timing thing.

"Very rarely, you might need a slight mechanical adjustment with hands or something like that. But that's what the pitchers are trying to do to him, mess with your timing. If you're early, you have a chance. If you're late, you have no chance."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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