'Wow, that feels great': Gelof blasts go-ahead HR to beat Yanks

April 22nd, 2024

NEW YORK -- Since arriving to the big leagues last July, 's sensational start as a rookie entrenched him atop the A’s lineup. So when he dropped to the six-hole in Sunday's loss to the Guardians, manager Mark Kotsay discussed the move with him beforehand.

“We both agreed it’d be good to get him out of the two-hole for a bit,” Kotsay said. “We’re going to do this until I feel confident that he’s got his confidence back.”

When it came to any A’s-related content this offseason, Gelof was the first player mentioned as having ‘star’ potential. The straw that stirs the drink. The engine that makes the team go. Those are inherited expectations when you earn AL Rookie of the Month honors in your first full month in the Majors and finish with an .841 OPS, 14 home runs, 20 doubles and 14 stolen bases in just 69 games like Gelof did.

That’s why dropping Gelof in the order was no easy decision. It’s an admission something needs to change due to his slow start -- Gelof’s batting average was just above the Mendoza Line (.202) through the first 22 games of the season.

One swing won’t fully get Gelof where he or the A’s want him to be, but when it’s as impactful as the one he took in Monday's 2-0 win over the Yankees, it certainly feels like a positive.

Heading to the plate with a runner on in the ninth inning of a scoreless tie, Gelof -- batting sixth for a second straight day and hitless in his first three at-bats -- quickly fell behind 0-2 facing left-hander Victor González. Briefly stepping out to gather himself, Gelof locked in and worked the count even before drilling a 2-2 sinker for a Statcast-projected 377-foot two-run blast into the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium.

The homer was his third of the season, and it set the A’s up for a victory that was sealed by flamethrowing rookie Mason Miller, who emphatically slammed the door on New York by striking out the side in a scoreless ninth, capped by a 102.5 mph fastball that Aaron Judge mightily swung through to end the game.

“I knew it was gone, especially with the shorter porch here,” Gelof said. “I knew I got that one. My first thought was, ‘Wow, that feels great.’”

Hitting lefties was the one flaw Gelof exhibited in an otherwise superb 2023. He hit .167 with just one homer against southpaws as opposed to .303 with 13 long balls vs. right-handers.

“He’s had his issues with lefties,” Kotsay said. “To see him go [opposite field] on a really good lefty, that’s a good sign.”

Gelof’s homer rewarded a dominant overall pitching performance by the A’s. It began with starter JP Sears, who shut down his former team across six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Lucas Erceg preceded Miller with a pair of scoreless frames.

“JP put up the innings and kept us in the game,” Gelof said. “Then when we bring Mason in, we’ve got nothing but confidence in him. It’s so fun to watch him throw the ball. I’m not even sure where the ball goes when he releases it because it’s going so fast.”

To pin the A’s early offensive struggles on Gelof would be unfair. The second-lowest run total (63) and fourth-lowest OPS (.620) in the Majors they carried into Monday is a collective effort. But for a young rebuilding club, Gelof is the central piece. For the A’s to be at their best, he has to be at his best.

That hasn’t been the case early on, but when the A’s needed him most on Monday, Gelof delivered.

“There’s no doubting his talent,” Sears said of Gelof. “It’s a long season with a lot of at-bats in front of him. I look forward to seeing a lot more of that from him.”

A glance at Gelof’s numbers will show his strikeout and walk rates are not far off from last year. The main difference has been his propensity to put the ball on the ground a lot more rather than elevating, something he thrived at during his hot 2023 stretch.

To get back to that, Gelof is focused on getting the direction of his swing back to the middle and opposite fields, much like he did on his ninth-inning homer. While he admitted it has been difficult to stay in the moment and not chase results, Gelof believes a return to form is near.

“I’ve definitely underperformed,” Gelof said. “I’ve been focusing too much on results instead of processing how I want to go about things. … You have to think about what you can do that day. That’s something I didn’t really do a good job of early in these first few weeks. I’m doing my best to stay present, be a good teammate and compete.”