Julks hits first MLB HR, leaves Dusty's hand 'ringing' after high five

April 12th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- ’ childhood dream became a reality.

The Astros left fielder grew up in the Houston suburb of Friendswood, Texas, then played baseball at the University of Houston. He has always been an Astros fan.

So it was no wonder that Julks nearly broke manager Dusty Baker’s hand Wednesday afternoon while celebrating in the dugout after hitting his first Major League home run in the Astros’ 7-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

Julks hit a solo shot to left field in the fourth inning to put the Astros ahead, 2-0. He wound up going 2-for-5 with a double and a sliding catch to help the Astros claim the rubber match against the Pirates for the defending World Series champions’ first series win of the season.

“My hand is still ringing,” Baker said with a smile after the game. “I kind of put my hand out there reluctantly and he still found it.”

It was easy to excuse Julks for being a little extra pumped for his first home run, which came off 43-year-old left-hander Rich Hill. It was a scenario that played out in the 27-year-old rookie’s mind many times over the years.

"It felt great,” Julks said. “I was just trying to get that nice pitch to hit, nice pitch to swing at and execute it, and yeah, it felt amazing.”

Julks, the Astros’ No. 29 prospect, had a breakout season at Triple-A Sugar Land last year, when he hit 31 home runs. He then made the big league club this year in Spring Training.

Through nine games, Julks has a .294 batting average and has a hit in seven of his eight starts. The eighth-round Draft pick in 2017 is also disproving the scouting report that he is primarily one-dimensional as a bat-first player.

“I knew he could hit,” Baker said. “I like the way he has worked hard on his baserunning and defense. He stays in the center part of the field [while hitting], and you’ll get a lot of hits if you stay in the center part of the field.”

Julks has also made a good impression on the Astros’ veterans, including third baseman Alex Bregman, whose three-run home run in the seventh inning extended the lead to 5-0.

“He came up with a lot of confidence, honestly,” Bregman said. “He believes in himself. He puts in a lot of work nonstop. I told him from Day One, if you’re going to play in the big leagues, you’ve got to think you belong here.

“Sometimes, guys come up and kind of tiptoe their way around and kind of try to feel their way through things. Not on this team. We try to make sure that everyone who comes up believes in their abilities and what got them here. He’s done a good job of that. He’s extremely focused and he’s a great teammate.”

Chas McCormick, José Abreu and Mauricio Dubón all had two hits as the Astros banged out 12 in the finale. Almost lost in all the offense was José Urquidy combining with relievers Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu and Ronel Blanco on a three-hit shutout.

The Astros bounced back after losing to the Pirates, 7-4, on Tuesday night on rookie Ji Hwan Bae’s game-ending three-run home run in the ninth inning off closer Ryan Pressly.

“We needed a win. We needed to win a series,” Bregman said. “We haven’t been playing our best baseball, but today was a step in the right direction. Overall, today was more of a complete game for our guys from start to finish.”

Nobody had a better day than Julks, whose next step after talking with reporters was to call his parents back home in Texas.

“It’s something he’ll never forget. You always remember your first homer,” Baker said. “I loved giving him the lineup card. It’s something he will cherish and take with him for the rest of his life.”