Inside Vogelbach’s loud homer vs. Cole and why it matters for Blue Jays

Blair and Barker start the show with another argument about if the lack of offence from the Blue Jays early in the Spring Training should be a concern.

TAMPA, Fla. — Years ago, someone gave Daniel Vogelbach some pretty good advice. He thinks it was Kyle Seager, the longtime Mariners third baseman who played with him in Seattle, but he’s not totally sure. Either way, that’s not really the point.

The advice was on the topic of how hitters should approach spring training, and it was pretty simple.

If you swing at strikes and take balls during spring, you set yourself up for a good season.

Simple enough, but it was on Vogelbach’s mind Friday afternoon as he stood by the bat rack in the Toronto Blue Jays‘ dugout at Steinbrenner Field and discussed his plan of attack against the American League’s best pitcher. Over the years, Gerrit Cole has dominated Vogelbach, holding him hitless in 13 at-bats with seven strikeouts. But if that bothered Vogelbach, he didn’t let on.

“They make mistakes and they’ve got to throw it over the white,” Vogelbach said after taking batting practice alongside his new teammates. “You’ve got to be aggressive.”

“Hit the ball hard,” he continued. “Swing at the pitches I want to swing at — that goes into the season, too. Then if you hit the ball hard, it’s out of your control. Just repeat good swings on good pitches.”

About an hour later, Vogelbach was standing in against Cole with two out and a runner on first base. The first pitch was inside, and Vogelbach took it. Then, a cutter on the inside corner, called for a strike. It was a perfect pitch, but Cole’s the reigning Cy Young Award winner for a reason. Tip your cap. Next, a ball, just beneath the strike zone.

And then? A belt-high 96.1 m.p.h. fastball that got just enough of the plate for Vogelbach to send it flying over the right field wall for a two-run home run.

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Swing at strikes, take balls, hit the ball hard. It sounds easy, but few can do it against the best in the world. That Vogelbach can appears to be giving him a strong chance at a bench job on the Blue Jays this spring.

“Vogey’s in a good spot,” manager John Schneider said following the Blue Jays’ 8-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees. “He’s swinging the bat well, but that’s a tough task against Gerrit.”

As for Cole, he didn’t appear impressed. After the game, he suggested to New York media, including’s Bryan Hoch, that Vogelbach’s home run trot was a little slow for his liking.

“Yeah, what’s the day? Are we still in February? March 1st? Yeah, he enjoyed that homer.”

Unwritten rules aside, there will be plenty of times this season where the Blue Jays want someone who can do damage against baseball’s elite right-handed pitchers whether it’s against Cole in April or Paul Skenes in June or Spencer Strider in September. Now granted, one swing in March doesn’t guarantee anything later in the season, but it does offer proof of concept. Not everyone can take Cole deep. Evidently Vogelbach can.

“You’re going to get one pitch, maybe, against a guy like that,” Schneider said before the game. “When you get it, don’t miss it.” 

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Further down the Blue Jays’ lineup, Nathan Lukes was also anticipating his at-bats against the six-time all-star, partly because he has yet to face him in a regular season game. The pre-game approach from Lukes was equally simple: Whenever Cole throws his four-seam fastball, try to hit a ground ball.

“If I think about hitting a fly ball, I won’t even remotely come close to hitting it,” Lukes said. “You swing and you think you’re all over it, but you don’t even come close, because that ball just stays up.”

“Pretty much hoping to see a heater, and not get to his secondary stuff,” Lukes continued. “Because he’s Gerrit Cole. He’s elite.”

Of course with this being spring training, Lukes had his at-bat against Cole interrupted because the right-hander’s pitch count was climbing and the Yankees wanted him to have a breather. In came minor-leaguer Harrison Cohen, who threw a called third strike past Lukes. So much for the chance to learn against the game’s best.

Still, on quiet days at spring training, those developments matter and Friday was certainly a quiet one for the Blue Jays. There was some news — positive developments for pitchers Ricky Tiedemann and Yariel Rodriguez — but nothing that fundamentally changes this team’s outlook.

Tiedemann felt good after throwing a side session Thursday, which means the top prospect’s next step will likely be pitching live batting practice in a few days.

“A good step in the right direction,” Schneider said.

Best-case scenario, Tiedemann would progress into games afterward and stay on a five-day schedule from there, building up after throwing just 62 innings in 2023. As for Rodriguez, the Cuban right-hander who signed a five-year deal last month, he’s slated to return to a mound Saturday after being sidelined with back spasms.

“Not overly concerning,” Schneider said. “He’s feeling 100 per cent right now, and that was our plan (regardless) to take it slow and really get him acclimated, but he should have enough time to ramp up into multiple innings when he does get into games.”

For the Blue Jays, that’s something to look forward to. Just as Vogelbach’s swing off Cole provided cause for a little optimism.

“He’s going to get you sometimes,” Vogelbach said. “Hopefully sometimes you get him.”

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