Ahead of meetup with pal Vlad Jr., Rowdy breaks out of HR slump

June 23rd, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Rowdy Tellez share more than a position. They share two notable dates: March 16, their birthday, and July 6, the date in 2021 on which the Blue Jays and Brewers made one of the best recent examples of a trade that genuinely benefitted both teams.

You won’t find any hard feelings in the story of a 30th round Draft pick who beat the odds by making it to the Majors (Tellez) and the young superstar (Guerrero) who pushed him off their shared position.

“He’s a Top 5 baseball player in the game,” said Tellez, who hit his first home run of June in the Brewers’ 5-4 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday, and who will reunite with Guerrero when the Blue Jays make a rare visit to American Family Field this weekend. “The guy hit 48 home runs with 111 RBIs [in a season]. I would probably get rid of myself, too.”

Tellez and Guerrero shared Toronto’s infield in 2019, when Guerrero was called up as a third baseman and Tellez manned first. In 2020, they split the starts at first base. In 2021, Guerrero became a bona fide superstar, leading the Majors with 48 homers and 363 total bases and finishing second to Shohei Ohtani for the AL MVP Award.

On July 6, Toronto traded Tellez to Milwaukee for reliever Trevor Richards and a pitching prospect, Bowden Francis.

“You can't complain about being put in a position where you're going to get the chance to play every day,” said Tellez, who finds himself in just that position with the Brewers. “Like, if I fail, this is on me.”

Said Guerrero: “I’m definitely watching.”

The two will get to see each other up close beginning Friday, when the Brewers debut their new City Connect uniforms for the opener of a three-game series.

It’s a chance to renew a friendship.

“It’s actually a funny story,” Guerrero told MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson last month. “Our relationship and our friendship actually began when we found out that our birthday was on the same day. From that point on, with everything that we did together, we had a strong relationship. Especially when they moved me to first base, Rowdy was one of the first people to help me out playing first. He was always giving me great advice.

“I’m very grateful for that and for him. Rowdy is a great player and an even better person. He helped me a lot.”

The feeling is mutual.

“You know what? Vlad was a great dude,” Tellez said. “He always asked me questions, he respected me a lot, he didn't treat me like his backup. Between me and him, there was no animosity. You know, I can look in the mirror and say that he outplayed me. He's better than me. He's a really good baseball player, you know? So, I can't sit there and be like, 'Man, I wish I had my chance.' Well, I may have had a chance and it didn't work out, but a team wanted me and I got traded and I got to play a little bit more.”

When he joined the Brewers last July, Tellez delivered a jolt of power (.814 OPS in 174 Brewers plate appearances last season) that the Brewers needed from the left side. This year, Tellez has even less competition for playing time and appeared to benefit from regular at-bats in the early going. On May 4, he homered twice and broke the Brewers franchise record with eight RBIs in a blowout win over the Reds. His OPS got as high as .968. He was named National League Player of the Week.

Since then, Tellez has simmered in a lineup that on too many nights has run cold. He had no home runs in June before connecting against Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright in the bottom of the first inning, helping the Brewers start a comeback from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to take a 4-3 lead by the fifth before Eric Lauer lost it on Nolan Arenado’s two-run homer.

Tellez became the first Brewers hitter to reach 40 RBIs and also leads the team in doubles (16), total bases (107) and extra-base hits (27). But while he took a pair of walks after the homer, the Brewers didn’t have a hit after the fifth inning against Cardinals relievers and fell to 1-for-20 with runners in scoring position through the first three games of their series against St. Louis.

“I think Rowdy has been fairly consistent,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s kept his numbers in a pretty good place despite not hitting home runs, and that speaks to taking a walk, still getting your base hits. And he’s been in there quite a bit, too.”

“I feel like we’re just one hit away,” infielder Jace Peterson said. “Each inning we get guys on and it’s just kind of spotty right now. There’s a couple of guys swinging it, and everybody else is not getting hits. We just have to keep going.”