BOSTON – Until recently, the most encouraging aspect of Teoscar Hernandez’s season was probably his defence.
After a trying defensive 2018 that saw him struggle with routine plays in left field, Hernandez has transitioned rather smoothly to a far more demanding position. His 94th percentile sprint speed plays in centre, and he has an arm, too. He showed it off Wednesday, throwing out Christian Vazquez at second in the Blue Jays’ 5-4 loss to the Red Sox.
But as Hernandez’s defence improved, his batting regressed. The 26-year-old arrived at Fenway Park batting just .199 with a .614 OPS. Among centre fielders with at least 200 plate appearances, only Billy Hamilton offered less offence. With numbers like that, even an elite defender would have trouble holding down a starting job.
This week in Boston, Hernandez has shown signs of emerging from his offensive slump. On Tuesday he hit a 441-foot home run to get the Blue Jays on the board. On Wednesday, he one-upped himself, hitting a 442-foot homer deep into the seats in centre. Two innings later, he sent yet another ball over the Green Monster in left for his 11th homer of the season.
For a Blue Jays team that needs to cultivate more success stories, that’s an encouraging development. These games offer a reminder of how impactful Hernandez looks on days it all comes together.
“That’s awesome to see,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “That’s the tools that he’s got. He could be that kind of player. That’s fun to watch.”
“What a game,” said starter Aaron Sanchez.
Granted, there’s reason for caution here, too. Even after homering three times in two days, Hernandez is just halfway to the total of 22 he hit a year ago.
And baseball’s a streaky game. Hernandez hit three homers over a three-game span in June, but the breakout was short-lived; he went three for his next 24 with 11 strikeouts. There’s no guarantee this one will last either.
Asked if he feels it’s all starting to come together, Hernandez simply said, “I try to make every play on every opportunity I have on defence and offence.”
Still, as a rebuilding team the Blue Jays can afford to be patient. If this week at Fenway Park is truly the beginning of something, the playing time will be there. And it wasn’t just the homers –Hernandez walked twice Wednesday, too.
As Montoyo said, “Great at bats.”
The Blue Jays also got a home run from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who continued his breakout season with his 17th homer of the year — a shot that cleared the monster altogether. Soreness has limited Gurriel Jr. to DH duties in recent days, but he continues hitting.
“That guy,” Sanchez said. “Somebody lit a fire when he got sent down (to the minors). He’s been on a different planet since he got back.”
On the mound, Sanchez lasted five innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits. To his credit, Sanchez walked just one while striking out four and topped out at 95.1 m.p.h. on the radar gun.
“Slowly but surely, my last few starts I’m starting to feel like myself,” Sanchez said. “If I can keep improving, tonight was another step in that direction.”
“He has been pitching better,” Montoyo agreed. “His command’s gotten better. I know four runs doesn’t sound that great but he kept us in the game. In a place like this, I think he did a good job.”
Perhaps more significantly for the Blue Jays, Ken Giles pitched for the first time in nearly two weeks. Giles had been sidelined with nerve irritation sustained during a massage, but was encouraged after testing his arm at Fenway Monday and Tuesday.
In his first game action since July 4, Giles looked solid if not especially sharp. Perhaps predictably, his command wasn’t entirely there, as he issued one walk and threw some pitches far from the zone. But both his fastball and slider were effective at times as usual. All told, Giles allowed one run on two hits while throwing 22 pitches and topping out at 98.4 m.p.h.
“Definitely rusty,” Giles said. “But overall I was satisfied with it. I came out of it with no problems whatsoever.”
“He looked like he hadn’t pitched in a while, that’s all,” Montoyo said. “He wasn’t sharp of course, but he’s healthy and he’s fine. That’s good news for us.”
Source: Baseball Savant
What happens next with Giles will be worth watching closely. There are exactly two weeks remaining before the July 31 trade deadline, so he still has time to restore much of his value. But another setback could prompt buyers to turn elsewhere, reducing the Blue Jays’ options.
With the deadline approaching and no August trades possible, we’ll have resolution on that front relatively soon. It’ll likely require more time to know whether Hernandez’s breakout is sustainable. For now, it’s simply a welcome step forward for the Blue Jays and their centre fielder.