As Guerrero and Tatis reconnect, Rodriguez dominates as Blue Jays beat Padres

Justin Turner hit a solo shot, Yariel Rodriguez struck out seven batters in four innings, and the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the San Diego Padres 5-1.

SAN DIEGO – A post-batting-practice feast awaited Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the visitor’s clubhouse at Petco Park, courtesy of Fernando Tatis Jr.

“Dominican food, obviously,” said the San Diego Padres right-fielder. “Everything that we like to eat. Hopefully he can enjoy.”

This was no random treat. The two childhood friends have been sending over meals for one another for years. Since Guerrero and his Toronto Blue Jays are the Padres’ guests this weekend, Tatis was on the hook.

“He has to bring the food. He has to,” said Guerrero. “It’s something we always did in the minors. It’s like tradition. If he comes to Toronto, I have to find Dominican food to bring him.”

The friendship between the two 25-year-olds dates back to their days as toddlers, when dads Vladimir Sr. and Fernando Sr. spent the 2001-03 seasons as teammates with the Montreal Expos. They’d romp around Olympic Stadium, making the place their own, “running the bases, playing on the field, playing in the family room at the end of the games,” said Tatis.

“He was always like me,” said Guerrero. “He always watched baseball, he always played baseball. He always came to the field early with his dad like me.”

Those bonds, strengthened along the way as they went from kids tagging along with their baseball star dads to prospects on the rise to second-generation all-stars, make every big-league meeting between all the more special.

This time Guerrero, with an RBI single and two hits, and his Blue Jays got the better of Tatis, who hit his sixth homer of the season, and the Padres on Friday with a 5-1 victory. 

Yariel Rodriguez, making his second big-league start, was again impressive in four innings of work, striking out seven while allowing just one walk and three hits, Tatis’ drive on a hanging slider among them. 

His fastball was again a weapon, sitting at 94.7 m.p.h. and topping out at 97.1, and he paired it well with a slider the Padres missed seven times on 17 swings. But he also used his splitter far more often than he did during his debut, throwing it 14 times in his 83 pitches, with the five swings on it producing two swinging strikes, two foul balls and a Jurickson Profar single.

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“This time I wanted to mix my pitches a little bit more than the first time,” Rodriguez said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “First time I was a little bit tense, you can say. I was more relaxed this time. I threw my game today.”

The Blue Jays believe the splitter has a chance to be pivotal for him, especially once he regains the feel for it after largely shelving it while pitching out the bullpen in Japan.

How much further the Blue Jays push Rodriguez beyond the 83 pitches he threw Friday is worth watching given how closely the right-hander’s workload is being monitored. Bowden Francis took the reins from him in the fifth and threw two shutout innings before Tim Mayza delivered a clean seventh, Yimi Garcia another dominant eighth and Jordan Romano handled the ninth, locking down a fifth win in six outings.

“It’ll be tempting (to keep extending Rodriguez), for sure,” said manager John Schneider. “A lot of it depends on how he feels and how he’s responding, too. We don’t want to get too carried away with it. I think 85 or so is probably where we’ll land. But that can change. He’s kind of in unchartered waters there for 83 pitches today, whatever it was. But if he’s feeling good and throwing good, we’re going to continue to ride him.”

Guerrero’s RBI single came during a four-run second off hybrid knuckleballer Matt Waldron, sandwiched by Kevin Kiermaier’s two-run double and Justin Turner’s run-scoring single. Turner’s solo shot to straight-away centre in the first opened the scoring and though the Blue Jays didn’t do damage from the third onwards, they still kept the heat up on Padres pitchers, the way they have throughout their recent run.

“The quality of at-bats has significantly spiked,” Turner said. “One through nine, making guys work hard, not giving outs away, the two-strike battles and foul balls. Obviously, it really stood out that game against (Carlos) Rodon. Having him throw 100 pitches in four innings was pretty remarkable. We made (Marcus) Stroman work, made that guy tonight work. Anytime you get the starter out of the game in the fourth, fifth inning and you get to face their longer guys, that’s a pretty good sign we’re going to have some success.”

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Padres pitchers did keep Guerrero from hitting the type of lasers Tatis remembers from their showcase days as 13-year-olds at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

“Everybody was talking already how you could see it,” Tatis said. “That was (when) he really marked himself, separated him from the kids, having grown-man power.”

Going through so many formative moments together throughout their lives created enduring links between them, Guerrero said. 

“You look back and you say, ‘Oh, we were together as little kids, now we’re in the big-leagues, not on the same team, but we play on the same field,’” said Guerrero. “That makes me think back on how grateful I am to his dad, my dad that we’re here together today.”

Being on different teams, in different leagues, on opposite ends of the continent means they don’t see each other often in season. They text and talk regularly, though, encouraging and pushing one another.

“Our fathers used to be together, kicking it around, having a good time in the game of baseball and now that they passed it down to us,” said Tatis. “It’s the same type of energy, the same family, same people from the same country … living the dream right now.”

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