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ROB LONGLEY: Vlad blast gives Jays glimmer of hope and back-to-back wins over Yankees

Vlad Guerrero Jr.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. - Postmedia File
TORONTO, Ont. —

The co-designer of the scorched-earth Blue Jays rebuild that is currently turning off a legion of the team’s fan base said he never saw this coming.

Not a team that would go 0-6 on its most recent road trip or a team that began Wednesday 16 games below .500.

“We didn’t expect to be where we are,” Jays general manager Ross Atkins said at the Rogers Centre prior to watching his prized rookie, Vlad Guerrero Jr., belt the biggest homer of his young career, a three-run game-winner in the eighth inning that propelled the Jays to an 11-7 win over the New York Yankees.

“We thought we would be in a better position at this point. We certainly never expect to have a road trip where we don’t win a game and we don’t expect to have these lulls, but at the same time, (we understand) that they are a possibility.”

Atkins understands that jaw-dropping glimpses into the future can be part of it as well, the main carrot of the 2019 season for those who follow and are reconstructing this team.

So cue the young man they call Vlad, who provided one of those moments in the flashy powerful style his has shown at every level of professional baseball — and against the Bronx Bombers, no less.

Already extending his career-best hit streak to six games with a single in the fifth inning, Guerrero destroyed a Zach Britton offering, drilling it 434 feet over the wall in centre field to give the Jays back-to-back wins for the first time since April 27-28.

“We’re all champing at the bit like: ‘What’s going to happen now?’ ”, Jays starter Trent Thornton said of the feeling in the dugout when Vlad came to the plate and a chance to do something special. “When he does stuff like that, it’s not really a surprise but it’s always awesome.”

The blast, Guerrero’s seventh of the year, turned a 7-6 deficit into a 9-7 lead and guaranteed a series win in this three-game set against the AL East leaders.

The impressive numbers are starting to pile up for the 20-year-old. His seven homers through 33 games are tied for the third-most in Jays history over that run and in his six-game hitting streak, Guerreros average is a bulky .391.

While fans are getting treated to the baby steps of Guerrero and the contributions from veterans such as Randal Grichuk, who had a pair of homers on Wednesday, the positive moments have so far been the exception.

Which was all the more reason for the extra oomph in the clubhouse celebration on Wednesday. Not only did the Jays win two in a row, they did it in comeback fashion vs. the Yanks.

“We beat one of the best teams in baseball and coming back against a team like that, that’s going to help us over the next few weeks for sure,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after his team put up a season-high run total. “We know that we can come back.”

Obviously, the Jays would prefer to see more good nights like the last two, and odds are some are coming. But Atkins maintains that whatever unfolds is all part of the process the club is deeply committed to.

“If you look at successful models across Major League Baseball, you are going to have down years,” Atkins said. “Those are typical times when you are giving younger players opportunities to grow and spread their wings. That’s what we have now.
“It’s not affecting our players in a negative way where they are going to be comfortable with losing.”

GAME ON

— In his first start here with the Yankees, there would be no flirtation with a no-hitter for Canadian-born pitcher James Paxton. Paxton, who delivered his historic no-no when here with the Mariners last May, served up a two-run homer to Grichuk in the first inning. For Grichuk, it was his second homer in as many nights and 11th of the season, eight of those at the Rogers Centre.

— Rookie Jays starter Thornton was decent early but after giving up a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth, saw his night end with five hits and four earned runs.

— Britton acknowledged the obvious talent of Guerrero Jr., but sounds like a pitcher who wants another shot at him. “He’s a good young hitter, but if I make a pitch I can get him out,” Britton told reporters in the Yankees clubhouse.

–The win guarantees the Jays their first series win since sweeping Oakland in late April.

TEOSCAR TIME

Long down your list of pre-season projections would be seeing Teoscar Hernandez returning to the team on Wednesday and essentially being named the team’s everyday centre fielder.

“He has a ton of reps there as a minor league player,” Atkins said, adding that a big part of his demotion to triple-A Buffalo was “to go back and get more accustomed to centre field. Subjectively, we have seen the ability for him to do that.”

So for now, anyway, the Jays have a most-days outfield of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left, Hernandez in centre and Grichuk in right.
Given his issues in left field throughout his career here, Hernandez looked comfortable on Wednesday, making a number of solid throws. He also had a pair of doubles, including a two-RBI shot in the seventh.

“Everybody was pulling for him.” Montoyo said of Hernandez, a popular figure in the Jays clubhouse “Everybody was so happy with the base hits. He had a great approach at the plate today.”

To make room for Hernandez, the Jays optioned outfielder Jonathan Davis to Buffalo.

REMEMBERING ROY

While largely a ceremonial move — and a classy one at that — the Jays selected Braden Halladay in the 32nd round as the 2019 draft finished up on Wednesday.

The significance of the round, of course, is in honour of Braden’s late father Roy, who wore that number in his Hall of Fame career with the Jays.

Recognizing that the younger Halladay, who is a high school senior in Florida, is committed to Penn State and thus has no intention to sign with the team, the Jays selected him as an honorary move.

“We obviously know the family well, know him well, and spent time with them,” Atkins said.

“He’s headed to Penn State (but) we’re glad to have drafted him.”

Braden Halladay responded to the gesture on his official Twitter account.

“Thank you Blue Jays for drafting me in the 32nd round today!” he wrote. “It’s a great honour! It’s with mutual understanding that I’ll still be honouring my commitment to Penn State! I look forward to college and bettering myself as a player and person.”

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