Every day during the second half of last season, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had only so many swings at his disposal. After a certain point, the pain in his left wrist became too much to bear.
What Gurriel, then with the Toronto Blue Jays, did not realize until after the season was that he was playing through a broken hamate in his hand. The injury likely took taken a toll on his power production; his home run total fell from 21 in 2021 to just five last year.
But after October surgery to have the broken bone removed — and after an offseason trade to the Diamondbacks — Gurriel is optimistic his power numbers will return to where they had been in previous years, though he said he isn’t making it a focus.
“I just want to be healthy,” Gurriel said, speaking through interpreter Alex Arpiza. “I know the power is there. It’s going to be there. If I continue to perform consistently, it’s going to be there.”
Gurriel’s appeal to the Diamondbacks has been easy to see during the first few weeks of camp. He has had perhaps the most consistent at-bats of anyone with the Diamondbacks during Cactus League play. Many of them have ended with a hard-hit ball.
When the Diamondbacks traded outfielder Daulton Varsho to the Blue Jays in December, the primary player coming back was young catcher Gabriel Moreno. But the Diamondbacks insisted on Gurriel being included for a number of reasons.
For one, he adds right-handed balance to their lineup. He also represents a bit of a safety net in the event that any of their relatively inexperienced outfielders should struggle. His career line of .285/.329/.468 gives the Diamondbacks confidence the outfield has a higher floor than its overall youth might suggest.
“He has a great approach, all-field approach, he’s letting the ball get deep,” manager Torey Lovullo said, rattling off what has stood out to him about Gurriel so far in spring. “He hit a ball inside the first-base bag (last week) and I know he was looking to do that. You can’t defend him. He’s going to just hit the ball anywhere at any time. I love the plate discipline, the ability to let the ball get deep and solid contact.”
Said GM Mike Hazen: “He looks like a pro. His at-bats, the control, the way he moves around, what he’s done in the clubhouse in terms of ingratiating himself with his teammates. It’s the little things that you see when he’s out on the field, complimenting his teammates that you can even see visually. He’s been a good addition.”
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Gurriel said he first hurt his hand around the All-Star break last year. He managed to play through it, in part by lightening his pregame workload. He said on most days he would cap his swings at 25.
Gurriel’s splits tell the story of his year: He hit all five of his home runs before the All-Star break, logging a .306/.357/.431 line. In the second half, he hit just .262/.317/.336 with no homers.
“It was tough,” Gurriel said. “It wasn’t such a bad season, but I just had to make adjustments. At the end of the day, I was able to make the adjustments to get through the season.”
Asked if he expects his power to resurface, he said: “Once I start hitting line drives, the home runs end up coming after that.”
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Gurriel, 29, defected from Cuba along with his older brother, Yuli, in February 2016. He signed a seven-year deal with the Blue Jays that November and had been with them ever since, helping the organization through its ups and downs, going from a 95-loss 2019 season to reaching the postseason two of the past three years.
“It’s a new start,” Gurriel said of the trade. “This team has the same qualities that that other team had. It’s a young base. It’s going to be easy to adapt.”
Though he is entering his final year before free agency, he said he is trying not to make that a focus. He has yet to play a game that counts with the Diamondbacks, but he said he already likes the organization so much that he hopes to stay beyond just this season.
“I feel good here,” he said. “I feel comfortable. Hopefully, the opportunity does come to get to stay here because I feel like I’m at home.”
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