Vladimir Guerrero Jr. just celebrated his birthday in the best way possible

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had three extra-base hits in a 4-4 day against the Phillies on Tuesday. Not a bad way to celebrate turning 22.

Toronto Blue Jays first/third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. celebrated his 22nd birthday in grand style on Tuesday.

Guerrero, slimmer, more experienced and focused than he was in 2020, went 4-4 before leaving in the sixth inning of the Blue Jays’ 14-5 win against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Florida. Two of his hits traveled more than 400 feet, narrowly missing home runs; three of his batted balls left the bat with an exit velocity of at least 99 mph.

Guerrero began his day with a 414-foot drive to left-center off Phillies’ starter Aaron Nola for a double. In the next inning, he went to the opposite field with a double past the first baseman, a line drive measured at 109.7 mph. In his fourth and final at-bat, in the sixth inning against Tony Watson, he missed a home run by inches, his 409-foot fly ball to center hitting just below the yellow line on the outfield wall as he wound up on third base with a triple.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had himself a day

With his four hits on Tuesday, Guerrero is now batting .529 in nine games this spring, best among all hitters with at least 20 plate appearances. His 1.566 OPS trails only Joey Gallo, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson. If this was the regular season, Guerrero would’ve been the first batter in MLB history to go at least 4-4 with three extra-base hits on his birthday.

When the Blue Jays called Guerrero up nearly two years ago for his much-anticipated MLB debut, this is the kind of hitter they envisioned. He’s been terrorizing opposing pitchers all spring. Five days ago, Guerrero hit his first home run in a game against the Tigers, finishing 3-3; all three of his batted balls were measured above 107 mph exit velocity.

Guerrero has always been able to generate power; last season he finished fifth in the league in average exit velocity. But it was his inability to get any lift on his batted balls that caused concern. He had the 10th-worst average launch angle in 2020 as his extra bulk caused his swing to break down. Thanks to a new, rigorous workout regimen, he reported to camp this spring 42 pounds lighter and in the best physical shape he’s ever been in his career. The results have been outstanding.

Manager Charlie Montoyo witnessed an immediate improvement from the player he coached the past two years to the one he sees in camp. “He’s going to end up being, in my opinion, one of the best hitters in baseball,” Montoyo said after the start of Spring Training. “I think just by being in shape, the way he looks right now, he’s going to get there.”

With just a little more than two weeks to go before the Blue Jays open the regular season, Guerrero still has time to get in even better shape, continue his domination of opposing pitchers, and find a permanent position to play. But for now, the focus is on his great day against the Phillies and, of course, celebrating his birthday.

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