Big stage means big hits for Blue Jays' Urena

Big stage means big hits for Blue Jays' Urena

TORONTO -- Richard Urena's disappointing season in the Minor Leagues seems to be a distant memory now that he's riding high under the bright lights of a big league ballpark.

Urena burst onto the scene earlier this month and hasn't looked back. His latest highlight came Tuesday night on a walk-off single in Toronto's 3-2 victory vs. Orioles star closer Zach Britton.

The 21-year-old Urena has a five-game hitting streak and is batting .324 (11-for-34) with three extra-base hits and three RBIs over nine games. Urena also has been providing strong defense at shortstop and has become a bright spot during an otherwise frustrating finish to Toronto's 2017 season.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," Urena said through an interpreter when asked about his recent success. "But that's what you do in the Minors; you work so hard to get your way up here, and now that I have the chance I'm trying to prove that I can make the team next year. Surprised a little bit? No. But it's nice to go out there and put up good numbers."

The Urena hype machine has been working overtime since he was called up from Double-A New Hampshire at the start of September, but it's not always going to look this easy for the Dominican Republic native. Urena, who is ranked Toronto's 10th-best prospect by MLBPipeline, has some flaws that need to be worked out, but so far there have been no signs of the issues in Toronto.

In the Minors, Urena was limited to a .246 average and a .286 on-base percentage. He often found trouble by chasing too many pitches out of the zone, but in the big leagues has been able to take advantage of pitchers who have been going after him. The big test will come when opposing teams start making adjustments, but that doesn't take away from how he's currently performing.

During Tuesday night's victory, Urena stepped to the plate with a pair of runners on base and one out. He attacked a 96 mph fastball that was left up in the zone and sent it to center field. The fact that it came while Urena was batting from the right side, where he only began hitting full-time in 2015, made it even more impressive.

"The zone here in the big leagues is a little more tight," Urena said. "So it's a little bit easier to look for a pitch that you're trying to drive and hit. It's a little bit easier to be patient and look for your pitches."

Urena's at-bat wasn't the only standout moment from the dramatic ninth-inning victory. Kevin Pillar began the inning with a rare walk and advanced to third when rookie Teoscar Hernandez displayed a nice piece of hitting by shortening his swing and going the opposite way for a single.

After a Darwin Barney groundout, manager John Gibbons decided to stick with Luke Maile instead of using a pinch-hitter. Part of the reason was because Steve Pearce is still out with tightness in his lower back and the only viable alternative was Rob Refsnyder, but the confidence paid off. Maile ripped a single off the glove of Manny Machado at third base to tie the game and set the scene for Urena.

"It's kind of changed the dynamic of our team and how we score runs lately," Maile said of Urena and Hernandez. "The one-run games, you're not as reliant on somebody hitting it over the fence. That's kind of refreshing and nice. That's not to say you don't enjoy the three-run homer because that always plays, but manufacturing sometimes is a big momentum piece and those guys bring it."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.