Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was already showing vast improvement at the plate so far in 2021. Then the Blue Jays star had the best game of his young career on Tuesday.
He put on a show during batting practice prior to yesterday’s game for the few who were there at TD Ballpark to witness it, hitting balls off the camera tower in center field with regularity. Once the game in Dunedin against the Washington Nationals began, the fun didn’t stop.
When the Toronto Blue Jays first signed Guerrero as a 16-year-old, when MLB Pipeline gave him the first 80/80 hitting rating they had ever handed out, when his much-anticipated debut in April 2019 caused Blue Jays attendance to go up more than 30 percent, his performance on Tuesday was what they envisioned.
Guerrero homered twice off three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, including a grand slam, and later added a third home run for his first career three-homer game. He finished with seven RBI in the Blue Jays 9-5 win over the Nationals, becoming, at age 22, the youngest player in MLB history with three home runs and at least seven RBI in a game.
Scherzer had gotten Guerrero to ground into a double play in the first inning on a slider. He went back to the slider when the slugger came to the plate again in the third inning with the bases loaded but Guerrero was ready for it this time, hitting it 415 feet to left-field for his third career grand slam. He hit his second homer of the night off Scherzer in the fifth inning, a 436-foot shot to center, the same spot he focused on hitting during batting practice.
Guerrero joined his Hall of Fame father with two career home runs off Scherzer. In the seventh inning though, he did something his father, even after 2,147 games and 449 career homers, never did. Facing Nationals reliever Kyle Finnegan, Guerrero went to the opposite field for his third home run of the night. He’s the first Blue Jay with three homers in a game since Kendrys Morales on Aug. 31, 2017.
These weren’t softly hit fly balls that just managed to clear the fence, either. Two of Guerrero’s home runs had an exit velocity of at least 109 mph. Even his ground out in the first inning was hit hard, at 108.4 mph. Only once before in the Statcast era had a batter hit three balls that hard off the future Hall of Famer Scherzer in the same game.
They were also hit to three separate parts of the ballpark, one pulled, another hit to deep center, and another taken the opposite way. “I think that’s special. Not many people can do that,” manager Charlie Montoyo said following the game.
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“That’s what he’s been working on in batting practice all the time, trying to go the other way and hitting the ball where it’s pitched. And he’s taken it to the game. It’s been fun to watch.”
Guerrero is now batting .360 with seven home runs through 22 games this season. Only two other players in Blue Jays franchise history, Vernon Wells in 2006 and Jose Bautista in 2011, matched those numbers at the same point in the season. His batting average is nearly 100 points higher so far in 2021 than it was last season and his OPS is up nearly 400 points compared to a year ago. Guerrero is leaner, more powerful, and making better contact right now than he has at any point in his still-young career.
“We talked to him last year, at the end of the year, and his goal was to get in better shape and do better. And he did,” Montoyo said. “He deserves all the credit for what he’s doing right now because he had an outstanding offseason and he’s ready to play. He’s doing what we thought he was going to do.”
The only disappointing part of Guerrero’s night is that, despite being officially the “home team,” the Blue Jays are playing 1,700 kilometers away from the Rogers Centre. A packed home park would’ve erupted and thrown their headgear onto the field when Guerrero completed his hat trick.
Instead, Blue Jays fans not in Florida had to watch at home as their homegrown star took a further step toward becoming a full-blown MLB superstar.