TORONTO – A slash line of .249/.291/.364 at double-A New Hampshire didn’t exactly force Richard Urena’s way up to the big leagues. But with three more hits, including a walk-off single off all-star closer Zach Britton in Tuesday night’s 3-2 comeback win over the Baltimore Orioles, the rookie shortstop continues to make a strong first impression on the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It’s not too far different from double-A in the major leagues,” Urena said through interpreter Josue Peley in trying to explain his success since his Sept. 1 call-up. “The only difference here is that they have more control of where the pitches are going and I can put better swings on pitches around the zone and not all over the place the way it is in double-A.”
Improving his pitch selection was a point of emphasis this season for the 21-year-old, who is known for being a free-swinger. Still, he’d performed relatively well in the minors until this year, which lowered his career minor-league slash line to .277/.320/.404.
Over nine games and 34 plate appearances with the Blue Jays – a sample size you shouldn’t draw conclusions from – he’s batting .324/.395/.471.
“The zone here in the big leagues is a little bit more tight, so it’s a little bit easier to look for a pitch to drive and hit,” said Urena. “It’s a little bit easier to be patient and look for your pitches.”
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons obviously didn’t see Urena hit at New Hampshire this year, but likes the approach and swing he’s seen since his promotion.
“He’s got a good, live, quick bat, for one thing,” said Gibbons. “He’s getting strikes to hit, and he’s hit some breaking balls, primarily from the left side, but of course he got the big one (Tuesday night) right-handed. I just think he’s relaxed and looks confident. It looks like he belongs. There’s no panic-type of thing, he looks like he’s been playing here for a while. He knows he’s good. You could tell that in spring training the past couple of years. And some guys play better up here. Not a lot. But some do.”
Is Urena surprised to have hit the ground running the way he has?
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but that’s what you do in the minors, you work so hard to get your way up here and now that I have the chance I try to prove to them I can make the team next year,” he replied. “Surprised a little bit, no, but it’s nice to go out there and put up good numbers. …
“I feel great. When you’re a kid you dream to be out here. For me to be here is just a plus so I’m just enjoying it.”
MAILE MASH: Luke Maile has five hits in his past three games, including a game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the ninth off Britton on Tuesday, as he tries to close out a difficult offensive season on a positive note.
“Way better,” he said of how he feels at the plate since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 1. “The quality of the at-bats is there, minus a couple of ones where I just gave them away a little bit. Overall I’m putting more A swings on the ball, I’m not really getting cheated the way I was earlier this year. So I’m pretty happy about it.”
Maile collected hits in five straight games from May 31-June 4 but knocks have otherwise been hard to come by. Overall he’s batting .140/.173/.223 in 121 at-bats over 41 games with 31 strikeouts.
John Gibbons left him in to hit against Britton in the ninth and Maile rewarded him by smoking a ball to third that allowed Kevin Pillar to come in with the tying run.
“The ball is sinking about 2½ feet it seems like,” Maile said of facing Britton. “There’s no mystery to it, you know what you’re getting for the most part.
Occasionally he’ll spin something but you know you’re getting a fastball. You almost have to try to pop it up almost because so many guys roll it over. He’s really good, he was really good (Tuesday) too. He left a couple up and fortunately we put the bat on it.”
A TITLE IN VANCOUVER: The Vancouver Canadians are Northwest League champions for a fourth time after 2017 first-rounder Logan Warmoth delivered a two-run single in the fifth inning that propelled the short-season-A club to a 2-1 victory over the Eugene Emeralds.
Starter Justin Dillon, a 10th-round pick this year, struck out seven over three innings of one-hit ball while Zach Logue, a ninth-rounder, allowed a Michael Cruz homer in the fourth but nothing more in three innings with four strikeouts.
Brayden Bouchey, Orlando Pascual and William Ouellette, recording the final two outs for the save, locked things down as the Canadians won the series 3-1.
Left-fielder Norberto Obeso threw out Jose Gonzalez at home in the fifth to snuff out an Emeralds rally.
The Canadians featured Warmoth, fellow first-rounder Nate Pearson, catcher Riley Adams and first baseman Kacy Clemens, among several others, who helped lead the Canadians to top spot in the Northwest League’s North Division at 43-33.