Blue Jays infielder Gurriel making the most out of demotion to triple-A

By The Canadian Press
May 2, 2019 - 11:30am

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lourdes Gurriel Jr. strums his bat like a guitar to the music blaring from the loud speakers while he waits his turn in batting practice.

When the Backstreet Boys hit "I Want It That Way" comes on, he and Buffalo Bisons teammate Cavan Biggio take turns singing some of the lyrics out loud.

There's hardly anyone around to see this pre-game show — it's triple-A, after all — but despite being demoted from the Blue Jays big league team nearly three weeks ago, it seems Gurriel hasn't lost his upbeat attitude. 

"It's not different, I don't feel different here than I did in Toronto," Gurriel said through a translator before a Bisons game this week. "One thing I try to do is always just enjoy the time that I'm here."

The young Cuban infielder, with his signature hair that sticks straight up like leaves on a pineapple, has become known for his cheerful personality around the Blue Jays clubhouse. 

But Gurriel had been struggling with Toronto's big league team this season, both in the field and at the plate, before his demotion on April 15. He was hitting just .175 through 12 games and was taken out his last game — an 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay on April 13 — after committing his second throwing error in as many days.

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said after that game that Gurriel was "struggling mentally with his throwing." A trip to Buffalo, the team hoped, would bring back the confidence that Gurriel had lost somewhere along the way.

"Every player when they bring you into the office and tell you you have to go down (to the minor leagues), it's a little different feeling," Gurriel said this week.

"They told me to come over here and keep working on stuff I needed to work on and basically recover that confidence."

While the errors looked damning, and the batting average was well below where he would have liked it to be, the 25-year-Gurriel felt he was starting to turn things around at the plate before he was optioned to triple-A.

And he maintains that he wasn't carrying over his defensive struggles into his plate appearances.

"That's something I've learned, how to separate offence and defence," he said.

Gurriel's bat has been proving too potent for pitchers in the International League, where he's acheiving team-highs in batting average (.368) and runs batted in (21) through 14 games. His four homers are second behind the six Biggio has hit over 25 games.

So what has he changed in his approach? Nothing really.

"The last four games in Toronto I was feeling (confident at the plate)," Gurriel said. "Basically I continued to do the same thing here as I was (doing) there."

Eric Sogard, Gurriel's replacement on the major league team, has been enjoying his own run of success in Toronto, batting .395 over 11 games. But he was taken out of Tuesday's contest against the Angels in Los Angeles with an illness, and missed Wednesday's game altogether.

Gurriel doesn't know how long he'll be toiling in Buffalo, but he said he's not looking too far ahead right now.

"I'm focusing on today," he said. "I don't know (what's going to happen) tomorrow."

While Gurriel is looking forward to joining his big league teammates — whenever that happens — he's also excited to see the bobblehead in his likeness that the Blue Jays gave away to fans just eight days after his demotion.

"They have one there in Toronto for me when I get back," he said of the doll, which fails to portray the bright blonde streaks he currently has in his hair. 

Gurriel laughed when that fact was pointed out.

"Next year I'll make sure it's the (right) colour," he said.

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

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