Despite Vlad Guerrero Jr.'s best efforts, Jays bow to Royals

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Behind closed doors of the Blue Jays front office — and among some in the team’s dugout, for that matter — the day that Vlad Guerrero Jr. took control of his career trajectory couldn’t come soon enough.

The sooner the better to renew the promise he had shown through his teens and at the 2019 Home Run Derby and to subsequently cash in on all that talent.

The solution, and thus the timeline, was always going to be in Guerrero’s hands, however, with the player ultimately determining when to knuckle down.

The fact that Guerrero has taken care of business has made him one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, a bruising reality in effect despite Thursday’s 7-5 loss to the Royals in Kansas City.

Guerrero had three hits – including a double and a home run – as the Jays rally couldn’t quite escape an early 7-0 hole created from dodgy pitching and sloppy fielding that led to three unearned Royals runs.

But he made a stab towards making things interesting on a night that began so poorly. With runners on first and second, Guerrero came to the plate as the potential winning run in the ninth but struck out to end it.

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Dramatically more fit, the first baseman is crushing just about everything he sees and is now batting .413 on the season. And that homer? It was a 456-foot bomb, the longest of Guerrero’s young career.

So what clicked with Vlad to make the commitment to get fit enough to do what he’s been doing to the baseball 13 games into the 2021 season?

“One day I just got up from my bed and I said enough is enough,” Guerrero said prior to the opener of a four-game series against the Royals in Kansas City. “I’ve got to start working really hard because I know what I’m capable of doing.

“And that’s when it started.”

Where it will end remains to be seen, but for the 6-7 Jays, the ceiling has been raised towards those original projections.

Guerrero has now reached safely in all 13 games of the season and has reached base 30 times, most in the majors.

None of this is a surprise, but there had been some concern that Guerrero wouldn’t have that look-in-the-mirror moment he hasn’t been shy to mention. Criticism was starting to pile on Guerrero — some justified, particularly given how he reported to summer camp last summer. But some of the knocks were over the top.

“A lot of people were really tough on him,” said DH/first baseman Rowdy Tellez. “He’s young. Really young. I think you just have to understand it’s going to take some time to get to who he is.

“He’s made some slight adjustments and changed his body. He looks phenomenal and he’s got a lot of confidence.”

That confidence has become infectious in the Jays lineup as Guerrero continues to get on base with regularity, adding to the danger factor of the Jays lineup. He hit his double to left, his single to right and his homer to deep, deep centre as if to illustrate the versatility.

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With caution to the diminished sample size, his explosive natural ability has boldly been on display. Guerrero has an MLB-leading 11 batted balls of 110 miles per hour or more, including the Thursday homer that clocked in at 112.8 mph.

“It’s just Vladdy, man,” Tellez said. “That’s who we expected. This is the guy who all the hype was about. He’s going to be one of the best players in baseball for a very long time and rightfully so because he works so hard.”

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ROMANO, STRIPLING LATEST TO IL

While Guerrero is a picture of health, the same cannot be said for the Jays pitching staff as a decimating run of injuries continues to pile up.

Two more hurlers were added to the 10-day IL on Thursday — reliever Jordan Romano, with right ulnar neuritis, and starter Ross Stripling, with a right flexor strain.

And to add to that, third baseman Cavan Biggio exited in the fifth inning with pain in his right hand after fielding a ball bare-handed for his second error of the night.

The list of Jays pitchers currently out includes, in no particular order, Nate Pearson, Kirby Yates, Julian Merrywether, Thomas Hatch, Tyler Chatwood, Stripling and Romano — and all as the team is in a jammed early-season schedule.

The Romano injury came as the latest blow, and partially out of the blue. Though the hard-throwing right-hander didn’t look sharp in his latest outing — allowing a pair of hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning on Tuesday – he was on the field throwing before Thursday’s game in K.C.

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When something clearly was off, the Jays wasted no time in shutting down the Canadian and placing him on the IL.

With Stripling also headed to the infirmary, the Jays recalled Anthony Kay to make the start for the first of four against the Royals. Kay got knocked around, allaying six hits and five runs (four earned) in his 3.1 innings.

The Jays appear to be walking further away from Tanner Roark, who came on in relief after being bounced from the rotation. But the troubled starter allowed just one hit in his 2.2 innings.

JUST SAY UNCLE

Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium was a cool venue for Josh Palacios to play his first road game in the big leagues, not to mention his first game in a major league stadium.

Brooklyn native Palacios got some friendly advice from his uncle Rey, who played for the Royals from 1988 to 1990.

“Hey said to take a nice look at left-centre so you can get a good grasp of how hard I hit that ball on my walk-off grand slam.”

Yes, Rey Palacios did just that to lead the Royals past the Red Sox on May 14, 1990.

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TIME TO SPLIT

While his bat has garnered the most attention, Guerrero has drawn attention for his defensive play at first base. He’s flashed a quick glove to pick balls out of the dirt and shown impressive dexterity in doing the splits while stretching.

“That’s one of the parts of my game I’ve worked on,” Guerrero said. “The first thing I do here when I get to the weight room is a lot of stretch work and work on my flexibility because I know I’m probably going to need it as you guys can see.”

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