With game on the line, Lourdes has no mercy

September 4th, 2021

TORONTO -- Until Marcus Semien’s walk-off home run punctuated the biggest win of the Blue Jays’ season on Friday night, 11-10 over the A's, the night briefly belonged to

Gurriel launched a game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the eighth, a no-doubter to left field that set Rogers Centre ablaze after two weeks of quiet baseball. The 27-year-old owns just a .748 OPS this season and has had his share of adventures in left field, but he’s continued to show up when the Blue Jays have needed him most.

“Huge at-bat from Lourdes,” Semien said after the game. “He’s been clutch for us the whole year. He’s one of the most clutch hitters in the game. Nobody talks about that. It was a huge at-bat from him by a guy who doesn’t give up much.”

Semien’s right. Over 100 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in 2021, Gurriel is hitting .344 with a .904 OPS. It’s a small sample that could be a matter of chance as much as anything else, but given the Blue Jays’ struggles hitting with runners on of late, they need it.

It’s important that this lineup gets production from the bottom half, too. This is a batting order topped by George Springer and four more All-Stars, but it’s crucial that the Blue Jays don’t give opposing teams a rest spot through the bottom of the order. Alejandro Kirk is part of that solution alongside Gurriel, but manager Charlie Montoyo was impressed with the entire lineup in Friday’s win, which he called a true “team win.”

“They were waiting for their pitches, which was great," Montoyo said. "Kirk’s at-bat was outstanding. That 3-2 pitch, he swung at a high breaking ball and fouled it off. The next pitch was a tough one, too, and he let it go and walked. That was the biggest at-bat. Of course Gurriel hit the grand slam, but to me, that at-bat by Kirk was huge.”

Danny Jansen got the start behind the plate for Toronto on Saturday, and he’s expected to continue working with Hyun Jin Ryu on his start days, but the Blue Jays will continue to look for opportunities to get Kirk’s bat in the lineup. Still just 22, Kirk has one of the best plate approaches on the team and avoids strikeouts, making him complement the rest of Toronto’s hitters well.

Pearson stumbles in return to Blue Jays
No. 2 prospect Nate Pearson came out of the bullpen on Friday in the exact position the Blue Jays had hoped for: low leverage. It didn’t go well. Pearson allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, and while his fastball was touching 99 mph regularly, the big right-hander still needs to hone his control and finish off hitters.

“I like the fastball that he had last night,” said Montoyo. “He was throwing 98-99, which is what I expect. I want that power coming out of the bullpen. It was the perfect time to put him in.”

Pearson will likely stay in these lower-leverage situations until he forces Toronto’s hand. This has been a tough season for the club’s former top prospect, and at 25, it’s time for him to be contributing to the MLB club in some capacity. That chance comes in the bullpen this September, but he’s still expected to be stretched back out as a starter for Spring Training in 2022. If he flashes some dominance late, though, a multi-inning bullpen role could be awfully tempting.

Top prospect notes
• Orelvis Martinez, Toronto’s No. 3 prospect, didn’t exactly hit the ground running with High-A Vancouver when he was promoted in early August, but he’s since found his groove. The standout 19-year-old has homered in four of his last five games, giving him 28 long balls over 98 games this season. 

• Jordan Groshans, the Blue Jays' No. 4 prospect, is hitting .291 with seven home runs and an .817 OPS down in Double-A over his first 75 games. Groshans is built for power and big exit velocities, so he’s expected to grow into some bigger home run totals. Groshans has spent roughly two-thirds of his time at shortstop, playing the rest at third base.

• Toronto’s catching depth is still enviable, with new No. 19 prospect Victor Mesia representing another wave from the lower Minors. The 18-year-old Venezuelan has hit .288 with a pair of homers and an .846 OPS over 21 games in the Florida Complex League, and while there are years of development ahead of him, Mesia is showing some encouraging signs for his age.