MINNEAPOLIS – On Sunday morning, the Toronto Blue Jays still had hope that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. could resolve his defensive struggles in the big-leagues. But after another error on a routine ground ball, the Blue Jays benched Gurriel Jr. mid-game and by Sunday evening he was packing his bags for Buffalo.
Perhaps triple-A will be a better environment for Gurriel Jr. to work through the mental struggles contributing to those errant throws, but the Blue Jays aren’t in a rush to find out. For the time being, Gurriel Jr. will be the designated hitter at triple-A. He won’t play the field until he’s mentally ready for that challenge.
In the meantime, the Blue Jays are hoping for a full turnaround and expressing confidence that one will happen.
"I felt like his dad talking to him," manager Charlie Montoyo said in his office at Target Field Monday afternoon. "That’s tough what he went through. We’re here for him. That’s what I told him. You’re going to go down there and DH, take your ground balls, and whenever you say you’re ready to play in the infield we’ll play you again, but it’s all about you. Take your time. There’s no rush."
Considering that Gurriel Jr.’s just 25-years-old and under contract through 2023, he’s a long-term piece for this team. And considering that the 5-11 Blue Jays are in a rebuilding season, they can afford to wait. With that in mind, they intend to let Gurriel Jr. determine his own timeline.
"It’s not about what we want to do, it’s about how he feels," Montoyo said. "Whenever he feels good to do all of that, we’ll do that. Wherever he feels comfortable. He could DH, he could play in the outfield, he could go back to second base or short if he feels good."
For now, Eric Sogard replaces Gurriel Jr. on the Blue Jays’ roster. The 32-year-old has played all over the infield throughout his eight-year MLB career, so Montoyo won’t hesitate to play him at short, second or third. Sogard could also play the outfield if needed and would be a candidate to catch in an emergency.
"I’m going to get him catching some bullpens too, just in case," Montoyo joked. "He just doesn’t know it yet."
To create 40-man roster space for Sogard, the Blue Jays placed Ryan Borucki on the 60-day disabled list with left elbow inflammation. Borucki’s currently in a resting period after receiving a cortisone shot, but this move makes it official that he won’t pitch in a big-league game before May 27.
In theory, the Blue Jays could have recalled a different infielder to replace Gurriel Jr. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. collected three hits in Buffalo Sunday, and the Blue Jays have already obtained a seventh year of team control over the top prospect. But they’d like to see him play three consecutive games in the minors before bringing him to the majors.
Until then, Montoyo hopes Guerrero Jr. can stay focused on the task at hand instead of worrying about his timeline to the majors. During his time as a minor-league manager, Montoyo perfected the speech he’d give players who felt they should be in the majors.
"Hey man, just keep doing your job," Montoyo would say. "Don’t worry about moving up, just worry about your job here. Because that’s what happens. They forget. They’re thinking about moving up and they forget their job."
"You start thinking about moving up and going to the big-leagues and then they get mad and the average goes down," he added. "It’s all about communicating with (Guerrero Jr.) every day. Keep working on the stuff that’s going to make you a good big-leaguer."
The Blue Jays are positioning Guerrero Jr. off the third base line in Buffalo, since he’ll be asked to do the same in Toronto. As for how long that adjustment will take, Montoyo said it might not require more than a couple of days.
Gurriel Jr.’s defensive work might take longer. At this point it’s too soon to know. For now, he’ll simply hit with the understanding that a place in Toronto awaits him eventually.
"It’s got to suck, I know that," Montoyo said. "He’s going to be back in the big-leagues, I just don’t know where."