Lourdes Gurriel Jr. sparks Blue Jays offence, backs another Alek Manoah gem

TORONTO – When Aaron Hicks inadvertently stepped on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s hand in New York last week, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. flashed back to last September. The Toronto Blue Jays left-fielder was in the midst of a torrid month at the plate when his right hand was accidentally clipped by teammate Randal Grichuk in the outfield. His middle finger was cut for two stitches along the joints and made every swing in his final 16 at-bats agony.

“Definitely, I remembered when it happened to me – it was bad,” Gurriel said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “I was very worried about Vladdy, especially when I saw the bleeding, but thank God it happened in an area that he could continue to have a good grip on the bat. Bad memories. We’re thankful he’s OK.”

Guerrero, who needed a couple stitches to close up a gash on his right ring finger, hit a couple of homers in the innings after getting tangled with Hicks, but has since cooled, going just 2-for-15 in the four games since. Crucially, especially with usual cleanup hitter Teoscar Hernandez out with an oblique injury, Gurriel has stepped in to pick up the slack, doing a little bit of everything to back another Alek Manoah gem in Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics.

Gurriel delivered a sacrifice fly in the first that opened the scoring, doubled and scored on Matt Chapman’s RBI single in the third and singled and scored when Kevin Smith threw away a potential double-play ball in the fifth. In the four games since he’s been bumped up to cover for Hernandez in the cleanup spot, he’s gone 7-for-13, including an RBI double Friday right after the Athletics intentionally walked Guerrero.

That was an important at-bat, lest opponents start thinking they can avoid Guerrero.

“It’s a big responsibility for me now hitting behind Vladdy, but it will be the same plan for me,” said Gurriel. “There’s no secret we have the best hitter in the league in Vlad. (Intentional walks) are going to continue happening, regardless. I’m just going to continue to be prepared for this because going to happen again and again and again. I’m going to be ready.”

That he has been ready is a boon for a Blue Jays lineup that looks much shorter than usual minus both Hernandez and Danny Jansen. Zack Collins, who doubled in scored on Santiago Espinal’s RBI single in the second, had a nice weekend with six hits and a walk and that’s helped, but the down-order pressure that makes the top of the order even more dangerous was lacking, even against the dreadful Athletics.

Going 5-for-28 with runners-in-scoring position over the weekend didn’t help, either.

Still Manoah, taking the mound shortly after Hyun Jin Ryu was placed on the injured list with left forearm inflammation, made the most of the limited support, holding the Athletics to a pair of fifth-inning runs on a Stephen Vogt homer and a Sean Murphy sacrifice fly that cut the Blue Jays lead to 3-2.

When Gurriel came around in the bottom half, Manoah followed with a shutdown sixth to hand over a 4-2 edge over to the bullpen.

The A’s scratched out a run off Adam Cimber in the eighth but Jordan Romano locked things down in the ninth, his 29th consecutive converted save.

In that way, the Blue Jays made due with the offence they got, something they may need to do for the next while until some of their colder hitters warm up and the lineup returns to full strength. Gurriel has carried the team before and is helping to do so again.

“Pretty much the same plan that I’ve been doing,” he said of his approach to hitting behind Guerrero. “I’ve been doing that when I’m hitting behind Teo, who is a great hitter also. So I’m going to continue doing the plan that I always do, trying to do the best I can.”

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