One morning this offseason, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rose from his bed and decided to make serious changes to his fitness regimen.
“I talked to myself and I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Guerrero told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “‘I’ve got to start working very hard because I know what I’m capable of doing.’ And that’s the day that everything started.”
Guerrero’s slimmed-down physique was well-documented throughout the winter, but now he’s reaping the rewards of all his hard work with a ferocious opening two weeks of the 2021 season.
The Blue Jays lost to the Royals on Thursday night, 7-5, but Guerrero was at the center of an offensive charge that almost brought Toronto back from an early seven-run deficit at Kauffman Stadium. On a night when the Blue Jays received another heap of dismaying injury news, Guerrero did his best to play the part of a silver lining. His 456-foot homer, a career best, put the exclamation point on his third consecutive multi-hit game.
Not only did Guerrero extend his on-base streak to 13 games, he also added two hits on balls with 110-plus mph exit velocities -- he has 10 of those, while no one else has more than five -- and posted his first three-hit game of 2021. Oh, and all three hits went to different parts of the field.
“He’s having a great year so far,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “And it’s great to see. We expected that. And it’s great to see that he’s doing what everybody thought he could do.”
Surely imaginations ran wild about what Guerrero could do in the ninth inning, when he stepped to the plate with two on and two out, representing the go-ahead run. In the previous at-bat, Bo Bichette had popped up on the infield, thus ending his 11-game hit streak with an 0-for-4 night. Guerrero followed with a six-pitch standoff against Royals reliever Scott Barlow, which ended with the young slugger swinging through a curveball low and away.
“We had the two right guys there at the end, so you can’t ask for anything better than that,” Montoyo said. “Give their pitcher credit for getting them out, but we had the right people at the right time there at the end.”
And give the Blue Jays credit, too, for working their way back into the game. They were down 7-0 through four innings, and a double by Guerrero had given them their only runner in scoring position.
The Royals chased Toronto starter Anthony Kay after 3 1/3 innings and pounced early on Tanner Roark, who made his first relief appearance since 2018. But Roark calmed down quickly, retiring the final eight batters he faced. And as he cooled off the Royals’ offense, the Blue Jays started to heat theirs up.
In the sixth, Toronto collected three hits and two walks en route to a four-run inning. Guerrero was in the middle of it, punching a fastball to right and later scoring on a double by Joe Panik. In the next inning, Guerrero smacked a slider well over the center field wall on the first offering he saw from Kyle Zimmer.
Though his final at-bat didn’t culminate in a hit, Guerrero did plenty to further legitimize his ascent into stardom. It’s an ascent that ramped up this past winter and hasn’t stopped since.
“The hard work I put in this offseason, it was unbelievable,” Guerrero said. “I think that has given me the trust and the confidence to do what I’m doing right now, the way I’m feeling right now.”
He added an important caveat about his profession: “There’s a lot of ups and downs. You’ve gotta trust yourself and just keep working hard, very hard … and try to overcome things when they aren’t going your way.”
The 22-year-old will still have his low moments, but what we’re seeing right now is that the high moments are astronomical.
• Blue Jays third baseman Cavan Biggio was removed prior to the fifth inning due to pain in his right hand caused by a line drive hitting his fingertips. The team had no further update on his status after the game.
• Reliever Jordan Romano's (right ulnar neuritis) trip to the 10-day injured list stems from him feeling discomfort on Wednesday, following Tuesday’s relief outing. Montoyo said the team wanted to give him a day or two to reassess, and ultimately they decided a trip to the IL was warranted.