TORONTO — Before Mike Trout started punishing them at levels that seem beyond comprehension, other players seemed to deliver big hit after big hit when playing the Mariners.
In the B.T. (before Trout) era, there was Vladimir Guerrero, who spent seven seasons of his Hall of Fame career playing in the American League West — six with the Angels, one with Texas — tormenting the Mariners. While injuries had robbed him of his freakish athleticism in the field and on the bases, he still smacked around Seattle pitchers with great efficiency. In 57 career games vs. Seattle, Guerrero had a .338/.395/.581 slash line with 14 doubles, 13 homers and 46 RBI.
Now it’s his son’s turn.
After arriving as a prospect more hyped than his father and mesmerizing fans with 91 homers in this year’s home-run derby he didn’t win, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. started his career vs. the Mariners in the footsteps of his old man.
Guerrero Jr. blasted a two-run homer in the third inning off of Wade LeBlanc to break-open a one-run game and allow the Blue Jays to cruise to a relatively easy 7-3 win over Seattle.
LeBlanc pitched the seven innings of bulk relief, allowing seven runs on 11 hits, including four homers, with a walk and three strikeouts to take the loss and fall to 6-7 on the season.
“This place is conducive to the home runs,” manager Scott Servais said. “You can’t give up four of them and think you are coming out on the right end.”
Of the four, Guerrero’s was the most impressive. It was his 14th homer in the 92nd game of his rookie season. By comparison, his father didn’t hit his 14th homer until the 101st game of his career.
“He’s a talented player,” Servais said. “That pitch wasn’t where it was supposed to go. You saw our catcher’s reaction. He set up over there and the ball was way over here. And that’s what happens in this league. He’s got a lot of power.”
The pitch was a 2-2 changeup from LeBlanc was supposed to go low and away and instead cut low and inside. It wasn’t close to a strike, but Guerrero turned it into a laser of a line drive that somehow stayed fair. It was reminiscent of, well, you know who.
“He’s a good hitter,” LeBlanc said “His dad did it for years.”
The result wasn’t as bothersome to LeBlanc as the pitch and the action to it.
“The changeup, it cut three feet, a changeup cut three feet,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve thrown a changeup my whole life. We’ve talked about it.”
Indeed, LeBlanc has said on multiple occasions that the new baseballs used this year have had detrimental effects for pitchers besides their propensity to turn into home runs. The feel of the seams and slippery cover have made offspeed pitches inconsistent in their spin and break. A command pitcher, LeBlanc can’t command baseballs that randomly do something different than what they’ve always done.
“I haven’t had a feel for anything this year,” he said. “Whether it’s the baseballs or not, at some point, you have to figure out a way to make some pitches, get some guys out, get some balls off the barrels or else you are going to be going home soon.”
There have been moments where LeBlanc has feel and command, but they are fleeting and as unpredictable as the baseballs being used.
“It’s frustrating to not have it, ’cause your team needs it,” he said.
After using right-hander Matt Wisler for a second straight day as the opener and getting a second straight scoreless first inning, LeBlanc gave the runs right back, and more, in a less-than-stellar outing.
Staked to a two-run lead on Tim Lopes’ two-run single in the top of second, LeBlanc struggled from his first pitch. He allowed three runs in the bottom of the inning on a run-scoring single from Brandon Drury and a two-run homer from Derek Fisher.
Still, a 3-2 deficit isn’t insurmountable in the hitter-friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. The Mariners had plenty of power to come back.
It became much more difficult an inning later when Guerrero Jr. turned a changeup into a screaming line drive over the wall in left field for a two-run homer. Randall Grichuk followed with a solo homer to make it 6-2.
Like the Mariners, the Blue Jays are in the midst of a rebuild that will take some time to reach culmination. But they are at least seeing some fruits of that process with Guerrero, shortstop Bo Bichette and second baseman Cavan Biggio — all sons of standout big-league players — playing every night together. The Mariners’ best prospects were playing together in Springfield, Mo., on Friday night for the Class AA Arkansas Travelers.
“I was looking forward to this series,” Servais said. “They’ve got young players that we haven’t seen much of, but we’ve heard a lot about. Certainly they are playing with energy and they have power. They are really swinging the bat well. We aren’t quite at that spot yet. We’ve got a few young guys coming and they’ll eventually get here. It will be interesting how it plays out against the Blue Jays the next few years.”