TORONTO – Check out this swing by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Crazy, right? Just look at the way he takes this sweeping changeup from Wade LeBlanc and essentially golfs it 397 feet over the wall in left field.
"That reminded me of his dad," said manager Charlie Montoyo. "Not many people can do that."
"I knew when I hit the ball the pitch was down but when I saw it in the video room, I don’t even know how I hit that ball," Guerrero said through interpreter Hector Lebron. "So I guess that looked like my dad."
The hand-eye co-ordination and wrist quickness needed to take a pitch that starts at the bottom of the zone, maybe, before tumbling toward the back foot is pretty remarkable. Impressive as that was, what’s also notable about Guerrero’s 14th home run of the season, plus drives by Derek Fisher and Randal Grichuk in a 7-3 thumping of the Seattle Mariners on Friday, is the approach that led to the longballs.
In each of those at-bats, LeBlanc doubled up on his previous offering. "When it’s not doing what you want it to do," he said, "you try to find the feel of it." Guerrero, Fisher and Grichuk were ready for the pitch each time.
The sequence against Guerrero is the most interesting.
LeBlanc opened the at-bat with an 85.2 m.p.h. sinker down and away for a called strike and followed that up with a 77.3 changeup in a similar spot that was fouled off. Guerrero than took a cutter low and outside for a ball before holding back on a chase changeup in the same spot.
At that point, LeBlanc came inside for the first time in the encounter, a low sweeping pitch intended to get Guerrero to swing over top of it. Instead, the 20-year-old was not only able to make contact, but anticipate the late break and get barrel on the ball for a two-run shot that opened up a 5-2 lead in the third.
"I was in a 2-2 count, so I was just trying to wait a little bit longer," Guerrero said. "I think that’s what really helped me to make good contact."
Grichuk was in the on-deck circle at the time.
"It looked like such an unnatural swing on a pitch that looked like it had a chance to hit him," said the right-fielder. "I could see him making contact with that, maybe pulling it foul, maybe luckily staying through it and hitting a grounder to third, maybe a double down the line, but to be able to hit a homer, that was impressive."
The Fisher at-bat wasn’t as long, but demonstrated the danger in doubling up on a pitch.
LeBlanc’s first offering to the left-fielder was a sweeping 73.6 m.p.h. curveball that started off at his shoulder and dropped into the zone middle away, a tough pitch for the hitter in a lefty-lefty matchup. Fisher looked caught off-guard by the first one, so LeBlanc decided to go back-to-back with the breaking ball, almost precisely in the same spot, this time at 70.9 m.p.h.
"I took the first pitch, I saw it well but it wasn’t something I was looking for," said Fisher.
He was ready for the second one, staying back just enough to slash the ball 396 feet to right field for a two-run homer that put the Blue Jays up 3-2 in the second.
"When he threw it again, I guess it was remembering where the last one started," said Fisher. "Hitters look for balls up and that one was up and I put a pretty good swing on it."
Grichuk had it easier than Guerrero and Fisher, as LeBlanc missed low and away with his first two offerings to fall behind 2-0. The second ball was an 85.1 m.p.h., cutter and when the lefty went back to it and put it in the zone belt high middle away, Grichuk had little trouble timing it up.
"You can see the shape of the pitch and get a feel for it the first time around and the second time it’s in your memory so your brain takes over and your body takes over," said Grichuk, "allowing you to get in position to hit that pitch."
His team-best 23rd of the season travelled 405 feet to left-centre.
"I honestly felt like his cutter, his fastball and his changeup all looked similar, the only one you could tell a true difference on was his changeup, it was way slower, it felt like it never got there," said Grichuk. "I was just trying to see a pitch out and over and let my body take over."
The home runs helped the Blue Jays out of an early 2-0 hole and provided all the support Jacob Waguespack and four relievers needed.
Facing a lineup stacked with six lefties, Waguespack continued to find reverse-split success against the Mariners, limiting them to two runs on five hits and a walk in 5.1 innings, with five strikeouts.
He began the night with lefties hitting .172/.274/.234 against him in 73 plate appearances with righties batting him at a .322/.371/.578 clip over 97 plate appearances. They’d also hit all six homers he surrendered.
Seattle’s left-handed hitters went 3-for-14 against him with a walk while its righties were 2-for-6, as Waguespack used six different offerings among his 102 pitches, breaking triple-digits for the first time in the majors.
"My whole professional career I’ve been better against lefties," said Waguespack. "I think it’s my stuff, honestly, now I’m running a two-seam away and then coming back with a cutter inside. Maybe that’s why."
For good measure, Danny Jansen added a solo shot in the seventh to cap the scoring for the Blue Jays, clubbing a 2-1 sinker over the wall in left field. LeBlanc fell behind with a changeup that missed and when he came back with a fastball middle away, Jansen pounced.
Sometimes you have to work for a good pitch to hit. Sometimes, a pitcher offers it up for you.