There’s a new layer to the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. experience this season. Once, maybe twice a game, Blue Jays fans find themselves wincing and recoiling away from the screen.
Not because Guerrero has done anything wrong, but because he dropped into a full splits to make a play at first base. It’s not what anyone expected from Guerrero, and it even caught the 22-year-old a bit off guard when he was watching video with manager Charlie Montoyo recently.
“He was looking at the replays and stuff and he said, ‘Man, I’m almost doing the splits,’” Montoyo recalled.
All offseason, the question surrounding Guerrero was whether he’d return to third base, either in a part-time role or something more permanent. That was never likely, but now that he’s back home at first base, he has been making some lively, impressive, flexible plays.
“He has a lot of energy around the bag, and he loves it,” general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday on MLB Network. “He loves playing on the field, and he loves being out there. He plays it with exuberance, and because of that, you’ve seen a little more aggression than you probably do from a typical first baseman. But he’s got great hands and really good hand-eye coordination. I think he’s got a chance to be very, very good there.”
Reigning in that energy will be key for Guerrero, who got a little too eager a couple of times earlier this season and pulled himself off the bag mid-stretch. As the game starts to slow down for him, though, his hands and quick feet can start to shine. If there’s a throw anywhere within his wingspan at first base, he’ll at least give himself a shot.
“He can move pretty well,” said Rowdy Tellez, who has been helping Guerrero work on his defense. “That’s something that I can’t do. I can’t do the splits, and I was pretty jealous when he did it. He is a flexible human.”
Stripling a late scratch Wednesday
Ross Stripling was scratched just prior to Wednesday’s finale against the Yankees with “right forearm tightness,” the Blue Jays announced. T.J. Zeuch will start in his place, and while it’s too early to know the extent of what Stripling is dealing with, this is yet another blow to a Blue Jays rotation that’s already being tested by injuries.
“He just couldn’t go. He tried to get loose and he couldn’t get the forearm to get loose,” Montoyo said.
Zeuch was originally in line to pitch Thursday, either as a starter or a bulk reliever following an opener, so the Blue Jays will re-evaluate their plans for the series against Kansas City.
Merryweather to IL with oblique strain
Right-hander Julian Merryweather, one of the best stories on the roster through the early days of the season, has been placed on the 10-day injured list with a left oblique strain. Merryweather threw just two pitches to record the final out of the eighth inning on Tuesday, but he couldn’t come back out for the ninth.
Anthony Castro has been added to the roster in a corresponding move, but the injury still stretches the Blue Jays’ bullpen depth even thinner. While Montoyo isn’t committing to a traditional “closer,” Merryweather was the closest the club had and he had been used in the highest-leverage spots to date. The 29-year-old has struck out seven batters over 4 1/3 innings of scoreless ball this season.