After starting his Hall of Fame-caliber career with the now-defunct Montreal Expos, Vladimir Guerrero is on the cusp of returning to Canada – by way of Las Vegas – with the Blue Jays.
Toronto signed the 37-year-old slugger to a minor league contract May 10 and on Friday assigned him to the 51s.
A nine-time All-Star and 2004 American League Most Valuable Player for the Angels, Guerrero batted third and went 1-for-5 as Las Vegas’ designated hitter Saturday in its 6-5, 10-inning win over Reno before 8,963 at Cashman Field.
The free swinger flied out to center field in the first inning, grounded out to short in the third, flied out to the warning track in left-center in the fifth, doubled high off the wall in right in the seventh and grounded into a double play in the ninth.
"I think everybody loves to watch Vladimir hit. You just never know," 51s manager Marty Brown said. "You can see a guy trying to waste pitches, and he can still somehow expand the zone and hit a ball 450 feet. It’s kind of an oddity how he’s always had success like that. Nobody else really has that style of hitting."
A 16-year veteran with a .318 career average, 449 home runs and 1,496 RBIs, the Dominican Republic native showed he still has plenty of pop during a stint in extended spring training with Class-A Dunedin (Fla.).
He hit .450 (9-for-20) with four homers and eight RBIs in four games, capping his stay Thursday with two homers and five RBIs.
"He did a very good job in Dunedin getting ready. I don’t think he’s that far off, from what I hear," Brown said. "It’s just a matter of getting comfortable with his timing."
While Brown said there is no timetable for Guerrero to go up to Toronto, it probably will be sooner than later.
The Blue Jays opened a roster spot recently when they outrighted first baseman Adam Lind to Las Vegas, and Guerrero could join Toronto in Chicago on Wednesday, a scheduled off day for the 51s (32-24) following their series against the Aces (31-26).
"We’re looking at it one series at a time, and we’ll see where he’s at," Brown said. "It’s kind of in Vladdy’s court, when he feels he’s able to go up top and compete."
Guerrero will be the designated hitter in two of the next three games against Reno and will play left field in the other, Brown said.
A strong-armed right fielder for the majority of his career, Guerrero played 145 games last year for Baltimore, all at designated hitter, and batted .290 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs.
In 2010, he batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs for the Texas Rangers.
A historic model of consistency from 1998 to 2008, Guerrero batted better than .300 with at least 25 homers for 11 straight seasons – a feat matched only by Lou Gehrig (1927 to 1937).
"He’s always been a threat in any order he’s ever been in, and I don’t see it being any different here in Vegas," Brown said. "He is getting older, but it sure doesn’t show just by watching him swing the bat."
Guerrero declined interview requests, but his presence spoke volumes in the 51s clubhouse, especially among Dominican players.
"He’s a very special person for us. He’s a Hall of Famer," Las Vegas outfielder Ricardo Nanita said. "It’s a great moment for us, and we know he’s going to help the team win in Toronto. He’s in very good shape right now. We always watched him play on TV, and now he’s here with us. We never thought this would happen. We’re going to enjoy him for however many days he’s here."
It’s safe to say Guerrero also will enjoy his time here – or anywhere he’s playing baseball, for that matter.
"That’s the big thing that sets him apart from a lot of other players – he wants to play because he enjoys playing the game," Brown said. "It’s kind of fun to see."
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.LAS VEGAS — 6
RENO — 5
KEY: Moises Sierra went 4-for-4 with a two-run homer, and Jonathan Diaz drew a walk-off walk in the 10th.
NEXT: Aces (RHP Joe Martinez) at 51s (TBD), 12:05 p.m. today, KBAD-AM (920)