By the time it landed well beyond the left-field fence at Kauffman Stadium, the rookie Blue Jays rookie catcher had his first major-league home run. He rounded the bases, pointed to his family in the stands and smiled.
“It’s a feeling everyone dreams of as a kid,” Jansen said. “Being able to share that was an amazing feeling. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
With good reason, too – that fourth-inning homer came just one day after Jansen collected two hits and a caught stealing in his first big-league start. This time it contributed to a winning effort, as the Blue Jays beat the woeful Royals 6-5.
As the firsts keep coming for Jansen, it becomes easier to see what the Blue Jays hope they have here: a catcher who can hold his both own on defence and at the plate. As manager John Gibbons put it, “Really a combo. A good all-around catcher.”
It’s no surprise to see Jansen contribute offensively considering he hit .275 with an .863 OPS and nearly as many walks as strikeouts with Buffalo this season, his first extended chance at triple-A. Without that offensive pedigree, he wouldn’t rank among the minors’ top catching prospects.
But there’s more to Jansen’s game than hitting, one reason the Blue Jays determined he was ready for the highest level. As he worked his way through the minor-leagues he made time for receiving, game-calling and relationships with pitchers.
“He’s got good aptitude. He’s got good feel for the game. It looks like he can adjust based on what the guy’s doing on the mound that night,” Gibbons said. “He’ll learn the ins and outs of each different guy on the staff, but he’s got the hands, so now it’s just thinking about the game instead of just thinking about catching the damn ball.”
On Tuesday that defensive work was put to the test, as the Royals ran aggressively against Toronto. Adalberto Mondesi stole three bases, and Whit Merrifield added one of his own, but Jansen did catch the speedy Brett Phillips. All told, he has prevented two of six stolen base attempts through two games.
“Catching is so much more than hitting,” Jansen said. “You’re a huge part of the whole game. You control everything. You’re the captain. I’ve always spent the majority of my time trying to improve my defensive skills and game calling.”
Jansen was catching a close friend Tuesday, as fellow rookie Ryan Borucki got the start against the Royals. The left-hander completed four innings, allowing four runs on four hits. He walked four while generating just one strikeout and four swinging strikes.
“I battled again,” Borucki said. “I didn’t have my best stuff.”
“It was a tough one for him,” Gibbons added. “His command was definitely off with his big pitch. His change-up was kind of missing.”
Borucki developed a blister on the bottom of his left foot, which affected his ability to push off the mound. He expects to be able to make his next start, which would be Sunday against former teammate J.A. Happ in New York. That has the potential to be a memorable game in its own right, but it’ll be hard to top this one given how close Borucki and Jansen are.
“It was crazy,” Borucki said. “It was weird seeing a familiar face back there. I’m so happy for him. I’m so proud of him. It was awesome to see him get his first big-league homer.”
The Blue Jays bullpen covered the remaining five innings with minimal damage, giving the offence the chance to rally. Kevin Pillar took advantage of that opportunity with a runner on in the eighth inning, hitting a go-ahead two-run home run to secure the Blue Jays’ 54th win of the season.
More importantly, Jansen’s performance suggests that his minor-league success will translate at the highest level. The authenticated home run ball sitting in his locker Tuesday night offered evidence of that.