BALTIMORE -- For as desolate as this 2019 Blue Jays season may be thus far, moments like Rowdy Tellez’s history-making home run in Wednesday’s 8-6 win over the Orioles serve as a reminder of reassurance and source of respite for the Toronto fan base.
The grand slam from Tellez punctuated a six-run fifth inning which broke Wednesday’s game wide open -- at least for a moment -- reminded onlookers of the raw power that the 24-year-old possesses. The blast made the designated hitter the first rookie in Blue Jays history with two grand slams to his name.
“After they threw the changeup away and I took it, 2-2, I thought, ‘OK, I have an idea of what’s coming,” reccounted Tellez, who entered Wednesday with just three hits in his past 35 at-bats. “I just geared up and got ready for it and was able to put a pretty good swing on it.”
Tellez did not need long to give a glimpse at that pop when he was a September callup in 2018. His nine doubles and four homers in just 70 at-bats last season took the Blue Jays by storm, and though his 2019 production has not yet caught up to the astronomical pace he set for himself last year, Wednesday night reaffirmed the potential he -- and several other Toronto youngsters -- possess.
Throughout the young slugger’s recent slump, what has pained him most has been his habit of pulling balls. According to Statcast, 23 percent of the lefty Tellez’s batted balls in 2019 have been to dead right -- up six percent from 2018 -- while his percentage of balls driven to the left side of the field has dropped off.
“Just focusing on what I’m really good at, which is being able to drive balls to all fields,” Tellez said of adjustments. “… I went into batting practice today, and I just wanted to hit hard long drives all over the field mainly. Didn’t want to pull much.”
But, of course, his grand slam was pulled over the right-field wall.
“That’s how it works,” he laughed.
“By one guy’s having a good at-bats and having a good game, everybody follows,” said manager Charlie Montoya. “Hitting is contagious, and that’s a fact. I’ve seen it.”
And it was all done on the back of the roster’s most seasoned member. After the Blue Jays employed the opener strategy to hand Derek Law his first career start, Edwin Jackson followed the reliever’s scoreless first inning with five innings and two runs allowed -- the first time the veteran has allowed two or fewer runs to cross the plate since joining Toronto on May 11.
“We do have a good core of young guys who are going to be the future of the [Blue] Jays, but our veterans are really what set the tone for us,” Tellez said. “Around 13 of us have less than a year of service time, so we look to these veterans to help us out and point us in the right direction when we are scuffling. So a guy like [Jackson] who has been around for 17 years … they are guys who point the way for pitcher and hitters for us to follow along.”
Montoyo’s decision to showcase Toronto’s inaugural opener was rooted in Jackson’s rough showings in the first innings this year -- seven earned runs in five first innings pitched. And it appears to have worked out -- at least for now -- for a club hesitant to hop on the opener bandwagon.
“I wasn’t opposed to it, necessarily,” Jackson said of playing behind an opener in the first time of his career. “… With the managerial changes and switch-ups, it’s all about the team at the end of the day, and I’m a team player.”
“The opener worked out pretty good,” Montoyo said.
Daniel Hudson pitched himself in and out of trouble in the ninth, handing the Orioles runners on second and third with no outs before inducing a popup and two strikeouts for his first save since 2016.
All of this would have been meaningless had Tellez not etched his name in the Toronto history books.