Vladimir Guerrero Jr. grounded out to first base in his first major league plate appearance for the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night, then narrowly missed a home run in his second.
Fans rose for a standing ovation as Toronto’s top prospect led off the second inning against Oakland’s Mike Fiers, Guerrero worked the count to 2-2 as fans chanted “Let’s go, Vladdy!” then hit a sharp grounder to first baseman Kendrys Morales that registered 106.8 mph off the bat.
Morales is a former teammate of the rookie’s father, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero Jr. arrived at Rogers Centre dressed in a replica of his dad’s Montreal Expos jersey.
“Since I was a kid I was running around with my dad in the clubhouse in Montreal,” Guerrero Jr. said. “I just wanted to bring that back today.”
Guerrero led off again in the fourth. Ahead in the count this time, he lined a 3-1 pitch to the wall in left, but Oakland’s Chad Pinder made a leaping catch. Pinder was booed when he batted the following inning.
The 20-year-old Guerrero was batting fifth and playing third base. He got a cheer the first time a ball was hit his way, even though it rolled foul.
His first defensive play came on a slow roller from Stephen Piscotty in the fourth. Guerrero charged, reached down to glove the ball and made a strong throw to first.
While there is little doubt about Guerrero’s ability at the plate, his defense remains uncertain.
“Is he somewhat below average amongst major league third basemen? We’ll see,” Atkins said. “He could come here and perform as an average third baseman but we’re shooting for him to be exceptional, not just average.”
Guerrero Jr. said defense is the part of his game he feels he’s improved the most in the past two years.
Fans also cheered when Guerrero came out to stretch before the game, and when his name was announced in the starting lineup.
Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted the debut on Twitter with a message attached to a Tweet from the elder Guerrero.
Born in Montreal during his dad’s tenure with the Expos, Guerrero said it was meaningful to play his first big league game north of the border.
“I’m very happy, very proud of myself for making my debut here in Canada,” he said.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins was happy, too.
“As he walked into the clubhouse yesterday, seeing and hearing it put a massive smile on my face,” Atkins said. “It’s such a good baseball story, and he’s so aware of it. He’s more aware than most of our young players of what it means to play for a city and a country.”
Guerrero wore No. 27, the number retired in honor of his father by the Los Angeles Angels. Following this weekend’s home series against Oakland, the Blue Jays head west for a three-game series against the Angels.
Guerrero’s famous father was on hand Friday to watch his son take batting practice, which was broadcast live on Sportsnet, the Canadian network operated by team owner Rogers Communications.
Guerrero Jr. missed the start of the season after an oblique injury in spring training. He played four rehab games at Class-A Dunedin before moving up to Triple-A Buffalo, where he hit .367 with three homers and eight RBIs in eight games. By delaying his debut until Friday, the Blue Jays ensured his maximum service time this year would be 157 days – 15 days shy of being eligible for free agency after the 2024 season.
The few hundred fans already inside the stadium clapped and cheered as Guerrero launched several long drives, including one off the windows of restaurant on the third level, and another into the center field party deck.
Toronto selected Guerrero’s contract from Triple-A Buffalo and optioned infielder Richard Ureña to the International League farm team.
Also Friday, Atkins said minor league shortstop Bo Bichette will not need surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand, an injury that occurred when Bichette was hit a pitch Monday. Bichette is expected to miss four to six weeks.
“We’re very hopeful that he pushes that envelope for us,” Atkins said.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports