Blue Jays’ Guerrero Jr. breaks out of slump after pep talk from Bichette

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. snapped out of a slump going 3-for-5 with an RBI and Yusei Kikuchi battled through five innings allowing just two runs as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 7-2.

TORONTO – During the seventh inning of Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins, Bo Bichette walked to the far end of the Toronto Blue Jays dugout, sat next to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and gave the all-star first baseman a pep talk. Teammates since opening together at low-A Lansing in 2017, the franchise’s rebuild plans pinned upon them, the two have over the past 6½ years developed a unique understanding of one another. With Guerrero en route to an 0-for-4 day amid a 13-game, 10-for-52-with-15-strikeouts rut, the star shortstop felt the time had come to say something. As he spoke and gestured, his friend — captivated — nodded and listened.

“I felt like he needed to hear some things and I’ve been around him enough to kind of know what happens when he goes south,” Bichette said Tuesday before Guerrero broke out with three hits in a 7-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “A lot of people think that trouble comes from mechanics and at times it does. But you have to get down to the specifics of why. A lot of times, it has to come from what you’re working on in the cage, what your mindset is in the box. And so I just was trying to remind of what I think he does well when he’s going right.”

Those reminders included a focus on mindset and connecting pre-game cage work with in-game at-bats, two things Guerrero said “clicked” for him during the chat. “Bo and I always do that – I’m there for him, he’s there for me,” he said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “In this case, I’m struggling a little bit. He kind of reminded me the type of player that I am, the type of person that I am. And more than that, more of a mental reminder to stay focused on who I am.”

[brightcove videoID=6328515516112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

To further reinforce the message, the two took early batting practice together Tuesday, joined by Guerrero’s uncle Wilton, the former big-leaguer who has been training his nephew since he was five.

Blue Jays hitting coach Guillermo Martinez encourages and sometimes even co-ordinates the extra voices, explaining that “sometimes there’s no other way to say it but the way I’m saying it, so maybe hearing it for somebody else works.” He’s pointed out to Guerrero that from a mechanical standpoint, he’s dropping his hands too far during his load, while approach-wise, he’s too often abandoning his plan to try and force production.

Martinez intentionally paired Bichette and Guerrero on Tuesday and planned to line up the slugger with Matt Chapman, who had an RBI single in the first, during Wednesday’s early work to create different conversations.

[brightcove videoID=6328548564112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Key of course is that Guerrero is open to that information.

“I’ll listen to everyone because I know they’re coming with something and I’m trying to pick something out of that conversation, whoever it is” he said. “Bo told me about the routine, something clicked there. Guillermo will tell me something. I get something from him. I know everybody’s trying to help me out.”

Given the type of season Bichette is having – he’s batting .331 even after an 0-for-5 night ended his eight-game hit streak – and their history together, what he says obviously resonates. And though they’re different hitters, both are able to track the ball deep and leverage their athleticism and quick hands to send fastballs back up the middle or to right field, while turning on breaking balls or off-speed pitches.

[brightcove videoID=6328515963112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Bichette is executing that approach to great success through the first two months of the season, beginning the day leading the majors with 78 hits, atop the AL with 124 total bases and tied for the big-league lead in multi-hit games at 23 with Los Angeles Dodgers star Freddie Freeman.

Guerrero, meanwhile, is still batting .291 with an .821 OPS, his floor underlining just how high his ceiling really is, but is “trying to work on my point of contact, not too out in front, trying to let the ball travel a little bit more. That’s the feeling that I’m looking for. Once I feel like that, I know my timing is right.”

At the moment, he’s more catching the ball out in front, which hampers his pitch recognition, causing “swing and miss, ground balls. I hit it hard, but I just roll over instead of seeing it deep, let it travel and stay through the middle.”

Guerrero’s hits against the Brewers were a groundball single up the middle in the first to plate George Springer with the first Blue Jays run, a groundball to left in the sixth and a line drive to right in the eighth.

“Definitely a step in the right direction and hopefully he can continue to build off it,” said manager John Schneider. “There’s probably no one more important to our lineup than him other than Bo. Hopefully this gets him going a little bit.”

That was Bichette’s motivation all along.

He noted how there have been “moments where he’s pulled me aside and told me things and this probably was the time for me to do that,” sensing that Guerrero is “just a little rushed at the plate.”

“You can always look at the results and look at the end product and say he’s swinging at pitches he shouldn’t,” said Bichette. “But it all starts with the mindset and how he’s working and things like that. I think he’s all right, but I think he definitely needs to be more aggressive for his pitch. …  I think when I talk to him, he listens and as a teammate that’s a good feeling, that he respects my opinion. That goes both ways for both of us.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.