Blue Jays Notebook: Gurriel putting it all together in big-league return

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. takes Canadian James Paxton deep in New York.

NEW YORK — When Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returned to the dugout after hitting his second home run of the game Wednesday, he couldn’t get Vladimir Guerrero Jr. off of him. The Blue Jays rookie hugged Gurriel repeatedly. He wiped his hands on his back and then on his own chest. He rubbed his bat all over Gurriel’s uniform, trying to gain some of his teammate’s hot hitting by osmosis.

And why not? After going 3-for-5 with those two homers and a double Wednesday, Gurriel’s now hitting .347/.385/.736 with 19 extra-base hits in 31 games since he was recalled from triple-A Buffalo in mid-May. Wednesday was his fifth consecutive multi-hit game, which trails only the 11-game run he went on last season for the longest streak by a Blue Jay since 2015.

“It’s just the work that I’ve put in over the off-season — it’s realizing right now and I’m putting up some good numbers,” Gurriel said through Blue Jays interpreter Hector Lebron. “As long as it helps the team, it’s great for me.”

Gurriel’s first homer came off a 94-m.p.h. fastball from New York Yankees starter James Paxton. He jumped all over the first pitch he saw in the game, and drove it 415 feet to left at 107 m.p.h. His second shot, off Paxton again in the fifth, came after Gurriel got ahead in the count, 2-1, before lifting a cutter over the fence in left-centre.

That demonstrates the different ways Gurriel’s been getting his hits on this streak. An aggressive, free-swinger by nature, the 25-year-old has had to work hard to find the right balance between being patient at the plate and attacking good pitches to hit early in the count when he gets them.

Gurriel will probably never be among the league leaders in walk rate, but he makes excellent contact on pitches all over the strike zone. Last season, 45.6 per cent of the balls he put in play came off his bat at 95 m.p.h. or higher, which ranked among the top 50 hitters in the game. The task for him as he continues to develop is to expand the zone less often, and force pitchers onto the plate, where he’s proven he can do exceptional damage.

“He’s been fun to watch,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “He hits. The reason he got sent down was because he was struggling defensively at second base. It wasn’t because we didn’t think he was going to hit. So, now he’s comfortable in left field. And now he’s hitting just like he can.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Reid-Foley likely to start Friday

The Blue Jays have yet to name a starter for Friday’s opener of a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals at Rogers Centre, but Sean Reid-Foley looks likely to get the call. That was the plan the Blue Jays were considering prior to Wednesday’s series finale with the Yankees, leaving themselves some wiggle room in case Reid-Foley was needed to pitch in the game.

The 23-year-old was recalled from triple-A Buffalo on Sunday to provide innings cover for Toronto’s beleaguered bullpen. He threw two innings of relief Monday against the Yankees, allowing two hits and walking three while throwing 42 pitches.

If Reid-Foley starts Friday, he’d be pitching on only three day’s rest and the Blue Jays would be happy to get anywhere from three-to-five innings out of him. Thursday’s off-day means the club should have close to its full complement of relievers available to pitch behind him.

Reid-Foley’s struggled as a starter at triple-A this season, pitching to a 5.87 ERA over 14 outings (13 starts), posting an encouraging 10 K/9 and a discouraging 6.7 BB/9. Some in the organization feel his long-term future is as a reliever, but the Blue Jays want to exhaust all possibilities with him as a starter before making that move on the chance Reid-Foley turns a corner.

He made seven starts for the Blue Jays last season, pitching to a 5.13 ERA with an 11.3 K/9 and 5.7 BB/9. He was given a major-league start early on in 2019, but lasted only two innings, allowing five runs (three earned) while throwing 52 pitches.

Borucki and Pardinho make their returns while Pearson continues to progress

Plenty of good news for the Blue Jays came out of the Gulf Coast League Wednesday, starting with Ryan Borucki’s first appearance of 2019.

The 25-year-old was sidelined during spring training with an elbow issue, and has sat out the entire first half of the major-league season. But after a slow, deliberate recovery process, Borucki finally got back on a mound with the GCL Blue Jays, throwing three innings of hitless, scoreless ball while striking out six.

Borucki dealt with various injuries throughout his minor-league career, including a torn UCL in his left elbow that required Tommy John Surgery in 2012. He finally reached the majors in 2018 and was one of the pleasant surprises in a lean Blue Jays season, pitching to a 3.87 ERA over 17 starts.

The Blue Jays have yet to indicate Borucki’s next steps, but he’ll likely require a few more rehab outings before he’s cleared to rejoin the big-league club sometime in the second half.

Relieving Borucki in that game was 18-year-old pitching prospect Eric Pardinho, who also made his 2019 debut. The Brazilian right-hander went four innings, allowing only a hit and three walks while striking out five. Pardinho has been sidelined since spring training when he began experiencing soreness in his right elbow.

The Blue Jays will surely be cautious with how they progress Pardinho, considering he threw only 50 innings last season in his professional debut. Entering the season, he was ranked as a top-100 MLB prospect by both Baseball America (No. 84) and and (No. 98).

Meanwhile, fellow top pitching prospect Nate Pearson continues to near a return from a right groin injury that sidelined him earlier this month. The 22-year-old, who had been pitching for the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, is now throwing off flat ground and could get back on a mound as soon as next week.

“He’s progressing well,” said Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim. “He’s on a throwing progression and is on track to miss minimal time in New Hampshire.”

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