Randal Grichuk shows that he can be an impact bat for Blue Jays

Randal Grichuk homered twice and the Blue Jays added two late home runs in the eighth to sweep the Nationals with an 8-6 win.

TORONTO – If any doubt remained about Randal Grichuk’s ability to impact games offensively, he erased it Sunday with his most productive day since joining the Toronto Blue Jays.

The two home runs he hit were instrumental to an 8-6 Blue Jays win over the Washington Nationals. Not only that, Grichuk showed off a disciplined plate approach with the bases loaded in the third inning and fouled off four tough pitches in the seventh before driving in a crucial run.

Eighth-inning homers from Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte assured the Blue Jays of the Father’s Day win, which completed a sweep of Washington in front of 35,146 at Rogers Centre.

Grichuk’s first home run of the day left his bat at 110.4 m.p.h. to get the Blue Jays started against Nationals starter Tanner Roark. Three innings later, he homered again, this time against reliever Shawn Kelley. With that, he had his first multi-home run game since July 18, 2015 – a strong indication that his early-season struggles are behind him.

“He’s got tremendous power,” manager John Gibbons said. “He’s feeling good. Good for him. It was wearing on him early on and now we’re seeing him smile a little bit more.”

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Compared to those displays of power, Grichuk’s third-inning plate appearance might be easy to overlook, but it was significant for a player who began the season intent on improving his pitch recognition.

With two out and the bases loaded in the third, Grichuk stepped in against Roark. The right-hander’s control had lapsed against the previous batter, Russell Martin, so Grichuk stayed patient and worked a 3-1 count before fouling off a fastball and laying off a change-up in the dirt for the RBI walk.

Grichuk’s final at bat of the day was in some ways his most impressive. After falling behind in the count 0-2, he fouled off four fastballs from Justin Miller then hit a slider up the middle to give the Blue Jays the lead.

“I was shocked that he kept throwing fastballs,” Grichuk said. “I hadn’t really seen his stuff (before), but I was able to get a slider and put a good swing on it. Definitely pleased with that at bat.”

Asked which plate appearance brought him the most satisfaction, Grichuk diverted attention from the home runs.

“Either the walk or the single,” he said. “To put that ball in play with two strikes was huge. And then the walk. I’m not a big walk guy or on-base percentage guy, so to be able to do it that way and not chase and make him come to me and get that walk was big, too.”

Gibbons highlighted the RBI single as the most impressive part of Grichuk’s day, but without Kevin Pillar’s contributions, it wouldn’t have been possible. The Blue Jays centre-fielder led off the seventh inning with a single, his second hit of the game, and stole second. Pillar then advanced to third when Martin flew out to centre, allowing him to score easily on Grichuk’s single.

With their late home runs, Hernandez and Solarte continue putting together impressive seasons at the plate. In Solarte’s case, the Father’s Day home run has additional significance as his wife passed away in 2016 after a battle with cancer, leaving him as the lone parent of their three daughters.

Meanwhile, starter Sam Gaviglio opened the game by throwing 14 consecutive strikes then started missing his spots after the first inning. In the end he gave the Blue Jays four respectable innings, allowing three runs, two of which were earned, while striking out six.

“He was real sharp early on,” Gibbons said. “He’s a guy that relied on that pinpoint control and I think he lost a little bit of that (in later innings).”

After the outing, Gaviglio left the team to be by the side of his wife, who’s due to deliver a baby in the coming days. Assuming the Blue Jays place him on paternity leave, they’ll be able to add a player Tuesday when they open a series against the Atlanta Braves.

The bullpen didn’t necessarily lock things down Sunday, as Joe Biagini allowed two runs and the Nationals briefly tied the game in the eighth against former Washington closer Tyler Clippard. Still, Ryan Tepera collected the final four outs to avoid further damage.

Now 33-38, the Blue Jays are still far removed from contention. Even so, the series finale offered the strongest reminder yet of what Grichuk’s capable of at the plate.

“Any time you can hit a couple homers and have a couple good at-bats, the confidence has definitely risen,” Grichuk said.

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