Yepez pledges to hit 1st MLB homer for mom ... then does it

May 9th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO --  has quite the collection of souvenirs to bring back from his road trip to Kansas City and San Francisco. The Cardinals rookie got his first hits on Wednesday, knocked his first RBI on Thursday, set up the game-winning run with a double in the ninth on Friday, and on Mother’s Day, he belted his first homer with his mom in attendance. 

Not a bad way to start -- and that doesn’t even paint the full picture of his potency over five starts with the Cardinals since being called up from Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday. Yepez’s continued strong play was a bright spot as the Cardinals lost their second straight to the Giants, 4-3, splitting the series at two apiece.

In his big league appearances to date, the Venezuelan prospect, ranked No. 6 for the Cardinals by MLB Pipeline, has hit safely in every game, with nine hits, four runs and three RBIs. On Sunday, he reached base in three of his four plate appearances.

“He doesn’t back down,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol earlier in the series. “He’s not scared of the moment and doesn’t make it any bigger than it is.”

In the second inning, Yepez, who played left field Sunday after three starts at DH, saw a low first-pitch sinker from Giants starter Jakob Junis and took his shot. The result was a 406-foot, two-run drive into the deepest part of Oracle Park and the Cardinals bullpen. Reliever Nick Wittgren retrieved the ball, jumping up and down to match Yepez’s own celebration as he rounded the bases.

“Man, I just tried to hit it hard,” said Yepez, holding his home run ball as he spoke. “While I was running the bases, I was like, ‘Please don’t be an out.’ And then it left the yard.”

With four hits good for extra bases, he’s slashing .474/.500/.789 in what has been an extended coming-out party for the slugger. For most of it, his family has also been in tow. His fiancee and a collection of friends came out to San Francisco for the four-game set, and his mom and dad flew in from Caracas to see their son in action.

“It’s pretty, pretty emotional. I got into the dugout pretty emotional. I’ve been playing Minor League baseball for eight years and couldn’t spend Mother’s Day with my mom those eight years.” said Yepez. “To be able to spend it in the big leagues and get her a home run -- it’s a pretty exciting moment for me.”

The homer scored Albert Pujols, who had been hit on the previous pitch. Just days earlier, the legend was welcoming the newest Card to the family.

“When I walked in the Kansas City clubhouse, the first guy who gave me a huge hug was Albert, and then everyone welcomed me,” said Yepez. “I felt so honored.”

Despite the big-time swings, Marmol is most pleased with the plate discipline he’s seen from Yepez.

“It’s the quality at-bats, taking pitches,” said Marmol. “The quality of contact looks very good and he’s contributing.”

Emblematic of that quality were Yepez's next two plate appearances, where he built up the count before singling off Junis on a choice slider in the fourth and walked on a full count after fouling off two pitches in the sixth.

Yepez’s homer put the Cardinals up 2-0, but St. Louis soon fell behind on a rocky start from Dakota Hudson as he continued his return from Tommy John surgery. He walked three of the first five batters before giving up a two-run homer in the second, but was able to recover and stretch his outing to 4 2/3 innings.

“My usual way wasn’t there today, so it was like, let me find something else. I threw everything,” said Hudson. “I just did my best to keep us where we could have a chance to win the game.”

But for Yepez, the eight-year journey to the bigs is finally paying off. After signing with the Braves in 2014, he’s been in the Cardinals system since 2017 and played 92 games with Memphis last season, leading the International League in OPS (.971), with 22 homers and 63 RBIs. He was widely expected to contend for a spot on the Opening Day roster but was left off after Pujols announced his return to the Cardinals in late March. Now, it’s hard to imagine taking him out of the lineup.

“It’s been a lot of hard work through the years, a lot of adjustments,” said Yepez, commenting on his growth. “I think it’s more mental, more confidence.”