Most batters return to the dugout with either a look of frustration or determination after lofting a hard-hit ball into the outfield for an out.
But Blue Jays rookie Vlad Guerrero Jr. had a smile on his face Sunday when his at-bat against the White Sox saw him lift a ball high and far, just not far enough.
The ball was caught, but the 20-year-old Guerrero was happy with the fact he barrelled up the ball, a good sign that the power breakout everyone is waiting for from Guerrero appears to be close at hand.
“It’s going to come … he’s fine at the plate, he’s dialed in right now, he’s seeing the ball really well at the plate,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said after Sunday’s 5-1 loss.
Montoyo and the Jays’ coaching staff, particularly hitting coach Guillermo Martinez, can see the rookie phenom’s improvement.
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With the second-lowest team batting average in the major leagues, Toronto often has no answers when facing a top-shelf starter, or even a reliever who is having a good day against them. When they do find their groove, it’s often been later in games.
Montoyo remains patient with his lineup, and he’s used every player on his bench with no real spark — outside of Eric Sogard — through 40 games. But the first-year manager has a feeling Guerrero is about to get hot.
“Everyone is struggling at the same time, and you look at the last five guys in the lineup, they’re hitting (around .200 or lower), its tough to turn the lineup around because too many guys are struggling,” Montoyo said Sunday.
“When we’re down two runs, it feels like 10, that’s where we’re at right now. Vladdy’s getting hot right now, so hopefully someone follows him. It’s going to happen. I don’t see these guys hitting .200 all year.”
Guerrero’s .191 average mirrors the rest of the lineup, but he’s made the right adjustments after his first 10 games, when he struck out 11 times.
Over that span, Guerrero grew frustrated with where balls and strikes were being called. He was also seeing better pitching than in the minors, and the results saw him looking at some third strikes while chasing others.
As the Jays head out on a week-long road trip which opens in San Francisco Tuesday night, Guerrero is seeing 4.25 pitches per at-bat. That’s better than Sogard (4.20), who is noted for his ability to work the count, and Justin Smoak (4.18).
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Guerrero does not have enough at-bats to qualify among major-league hitters — most of whom have 35 or more games — but that 4.25 figure would place him in a tie for 21st overall with Brett Gardiner, Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts.
With some adjustments, Guerrero has been hitting the ball more consistently, and with power.
He is responsible for the second-hardest hit ball in the majors this season — a 118.9-m.p.h. double against the White Sox this past weekend. Only the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton has hit a ball harder (120.6 m.p.h.).
With just 13 games and 47 at-bats so far, Guerrero has yet to register a homer, which seems to be what everyone is waiting for. But he has totalled 35 batted balls, with an average velocity of 90.8 m.p.h. and a 45.7 per cent hard-hit ball rate, all of which lead the Jays.
With each passing at-bat, the coaching staff senses the home runs aren’t too far off.
“What I like about the double he hit (at 118 m.p.h.), was that their second baseman was playing closer to shortstop, so (Guerrero Jr.) hit the ball through the (second base side) for the double,” Montoyo said.
“That’s special for a 20 year old to be thinking like that. He ended up hitting the ball to right-centre field, so his approach to me is outstanding. He’s getting a good eye at the plate as well.
“It will come.”
Mark Zwolinski is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @markzwol
Published at Mon, 13 May 2019 18:34:52 +0000