Hernandez building '18 case with plate discipline

Hernandez building '18 case with plate discipline

BOSTON -- Teoscar Hernandez had one month to make a statement that he belongs in the Blue Jays' plans for 2018. With less than a week to go, he appears to be passing the test.

Hernandez put together another productive game on Monday night by hitting a two-run double and scoring a run during Toronto's 6-4 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He entered the series opener with three homers over his last three games while playing every day in left field for the injured Steve Pearce.

Jose Bautista is not expected to return next season, which leaves at least one starting outfield spot up for grabs next spring. Hernandez is the most realistic internal candidate for the job, but he also doesn't want to put too much of an emphasis on that quite yet. He's playing well, but the Dominican native also realizes all too well there are no guarantees in this situation.

"The more chances that you get, the more confidence you get," Hernandez said. "Everything that you're doing, your swing works better. When you get the chance to play every day, you're really important to the team, it makes your confidence go up. You're not scared to do the things you're supposed to do."

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has been giving Hernandez rave reviews in recent days. What has stood out to him is Hernandez's improved plate discipline. Gibbons felt that when Hernandez arrived earlier this month, he would swing at anything remotely close. Now, he's being more selective, and it's showing in the quality of his at-bats.

Hernandez is aware that his patience -- or lack thereof -- can be an issue, and it's something he has worked hard to fix over the last couple of years. There have been signs of progress in the Minors, with 33 walks in 514 plate appearances in 2015, 45 walks in 482 plate appearances the following year and 47 walks in 456 plate appearances at the Minor League level this season.

Admitting there's a problem is the first step, but it's a lot easier said than done to go against your natural instincts. So far, Hernandez has walked just four times with the Blue Jays, but two have come in the last two games and the quality of the at-bats has been much better.

"I've noticed a big change in his aggression at the plate," Gibbons said. "He's still an aggressive hitter, but he's not up there swinging at everything, which is key. ... Look back the last week or 10 days, he's been locking it in pretty good. He's putting up some good at-bats, he's fouling off some good breaking balls. ... A lot of that's because he's comfortable, and he's getting at-bats."

Hernandez's five home runs and 14 RBIs this month are the most in franchise history for a September callup. He's batting .291 (16-for-55) over his last 17 games and 11 of his last 18 hits have gone for extra bases. There has also been above-average defense with impressive range and a strong arm that was on display again when he threw out Sam Travis at second base.

Hernandez nabs Travis at second

The success has been there and the extended audition is going well, even if Hernandez doesn't want to come out and say it.

"I don't want to think like I have the stuff for next year," Hernandez said. "I just want to keep going, keep working and do my best."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com 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.