It was a deep drive that took Baltimore Orioles outfielder Xavier Avery back to the warning track. It seemed for a moment that Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion was going to accomplish in 49 games what took him all of last season to do. He already had hit his 16th home run back in the third inning and if this baseball didn't die just shy of the 375-foot fence in left field at Rogers Centre, Encarnacion would have had his 17th —the same number of homers he hit in 134 games last season - in his final at-bat of what turned out to be a 6-2 Jays victory Monday night.
Instead he'll have to wait at least another day. With the Jays and Orioles playing the second of a three-game series Tuesday, it seems there wouldn't be a better night for Encarnacion to hit his 17th home run of the season. It was on this night a year ago — in his 38th game and 141st at-bat — that the 29-year-old hit his first home run of the season in a 13-4 Jays drubbing of the Chicago White Sox.
And in a Jays season that so far has been plagued and defined by inconsistency, Encarnacion's consistent power at the plate has helped lead Toronto through the first quarter of the season and remain in the American League wildcard race.
Jose Bautista hit .181 in April and only in the last few weeks has he begun to regain his form. Pitcher Ricky Romero, though 5-1, has struggled with his control, and, although Brandon Morrow pitched a complete game on May 19, in his next start he was shelled for six runs in just two-thirds of an inning. The list of inconsistent play goes on extending from the plate, to the mound, and to the bullpen.
Encarnacion's 16 home runs not only puts him atop the Jays in the HR category, it puts him second overall in the AL behind Texas Rangers slugger and early MVP favourite Josh Hamilton.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell believes the change in Encarnacion's swing mechanics has played a large part in the Jays DH's early-season success.
"The two-handed finish to his swing has caused it to be more compact, and I think a more consistently repeated swing path," Farrell told Gregor Chisholm of mlb.com in early May. "He's obviously hitting with a lot of confidence. We've had the benefit of seeing him every day and he goes into the box looking for a pitch and when he gets it, he hasn't missed it. There's a fundamental difference [in the mechanics]."
Ironically, after Bautista was walked 132 times last season, Jays fans cried out to general manager Alex Anthopoulos to find a power hitter via free agency or the trade market to put behind Bautista in the batting order and perhaps force opponents to pitch to the Jays' franchise centerpiece.
Instead Anthopoulos veered away from big-money long-term contracts. It was a good move, too, as Encarnacion is playing like one of the best power hitters in the American League while Bautista is still finding his footing nearly two months into the season.