Yuli's tear continues with 4 hits, 4 RBIs

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HOUSTON -- It would have been hard to imagine last October that Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel was poised to have the kind of season at the plate he’s enjoying in 2021.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, Gurriel was virtually an automatic out in the Astros’ lineup, and he struggled even more in the postseason with five hits in 44 at-bats -- all singles. Still, the Astros signed him to a contract extension for $6.5 million, which now seems like the bargain of the year.

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Gurriel has been among the best hitters in the American League this season, and he added to that on Friday night by going 4-for-4 with four RBIs, including a two-run homer, in the Astros’ 10-4 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener at Minute Maid Park.

“Boy, it’s fun to watch him hit,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He might hit the ball anywhere, you know what I mean? That’s how you hit. It’s a pleasure and a joy to watch him.”

Gurriel has already surpassed last year’s RBI total with 24 (he had 22 in 2020), and he has been the best offensive player in Houston’s deep lineup, slashing .342/.420/.553. He’s hitting .444 (24-for-54) at home and leads the Astros in multihit games (12) and RBIs.

Gurriel scored on Carlos Correa’s two-run homer in the second inning -- breaking Correa’s 0-for-19 streak -- and he belted a two-run homer to left in the fifth to put Houston ahead, 5-2. Gurriel also had an RBI single in the seventh and a sac fly in the eighth.

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“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun. More than anything, just being able to help the team win makes me very happy. I’m glad we got going and were able to win a ballgame. Just being able to help and contribute that little bit makes me feel really good.”

All four of Gurriel’s hits were considered “hard hits,” meaning they had an exit velocity of 95 mph and above. His seventh-inning single was 100.6 mph and his fifth-inning homer -- which sailed over the head of his brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. -- was 100 mph off the bat.

“I was actually making eye contact with [Lourdes] right out the corner of my eye,” Yuli said. “If I was watching too much, we’re going to have problems after the game. But I did look out the corner of my eye a little bit.”

A closer look at the numbers with both eyes reveals the strides Gurriel has made this year at the plate.

His hard-hit rate (46.2 percent entering Friday) is a substantial improvement from last year (36.5), along with his average exit velocity (89.3 mph in 2020 compared to 90.4 mph this year). His chase rate (34.4 percent in 2020) has dropped to 29.3 percent, which has led to more walks. He’s walked 16 times in 114 at-bats, after drawing just 12 walks in 211 at-bats last year.

Gurriel has previously credited Correa with preaching to him to be more selective at the plate. He said the start-and-stop nature of last season threw off his timing. Plus, he dropped weight in the winter and came into camp 15 pounds lighter. It’s all paid off.

“I think the biggest thing is to have more patience,” Gurriel said. “I wanted to hit, hit, hit all the time. That made me expand my zone a little bit, especially with runners in scoring position. I just wanted to drive in that run.”

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