TORONTO — When the Toronto Blue Jays brought Billy McKinney on board in the J.A. Happ deal, they knew they were getting one thing for sure: power.
McKinney has some warts — he’s a little old for a prospect still trying to break through (he turns 24 Wednesday) and his plate discipline could use improvement (he has a sub-.300 OBP at two Triple-A stops this year) — but he can hit the ball a long way.
Coming into Tuesday’s 8-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles, he had 16 home runs in just 76 games at Triple-A, but had yet to put one over the fence in the bigs. That changed definitively on a Ryan Meisinger fastball down the pipe in the fifth.
“It felt good, I was glad to put the bat on the ball and have it go out,” McKinney said. “I’ve dreamed of that for a long time.”
The ball travelled a sizzling 109.4 mph, harder than any other that left the bat all game, and it went 411 feet putting it firmly in “no-doubter” territory.
The knock was a major milestone for McKinney, but it was also an encouraging sign for the Blue Jays because it came in a strong at-bat where he fouled off three tough pitches around the zone, took every clear-cut ball, and capitalized on a mistake.
The round tripper was impressive in its own right, but it was also sandwiched between two other great at-bats. In the fourth inning, McKinney opened up the lead on a two-run single to right.
There are a couple of things that made the hit particularly noteworthy. The first is the pitch it came off. Dylan Bundy’s slider is by far his best offering, with opponents hitting just .178 against it while missing on half their swings. The right-hander also put it where he wanted to on the corner low-and-in. Even so, McKinney got the head out and dumped it into right field.
It’s also worth noting that he clawed his way back from an 0-2 count in the at-bat, bringing himself back to 2-2 before earning the hit. For all his flaws, Bundy is capable of putting hitters away, and McKinney stayed alive in a big spot.
When the young outfielder came to the dish in the seventh, he got aboard in an unexciting but impressive way by earning a nine-pitch walk. Once again, McKinney found himself down 0-2 and fought his way back, this time fouling off three pitches — a slider on each corner and a 97 mph fastball from southpaw Tanner Scott — and taking four for the walk.
“I really like the way he hung in on that lefty today,” manager John Gibbons said. “He’s hungry, he’s looking for his opportunity and he’s definitely taking advantage of it. He’s going to give you a good at-bat.”
When his work was done, McKinney had a 2-for-3 day with three RBIs and three visits to the basepaths. Not bad for his fourth career start at the major-league level.
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