Last season was supposed to be Brandon Guyer's breakout year.
His first taste of the Majors in 2011 been memorable -- he'd homered in his first big league at-bat -- but his second trip to Tampa Bay 12 months later had been much shorter and more forgettable.
Now the 27-year-old outfielder is trying to force the Rays' hand to get another chance. To that end, Guyer blasted two first-inning homers as part of a five-RBI performance in the Triple-A Durham Bulls' 12-8 win over the visiting Gwinnett Braves on Tuesday.
"I've had a game where I've hit two home runs in one game, but not two in one inning," he said. "Maybe once in little League, but right now I can't remember.
"To be honest, I'm just happy we got the win. I'm frustrated with my last two at-bats ... but whenever I have a good at-bat, I'm just trying to keep things simple."
The outfielder was primed to get an extended shot with the Rays last year, but he appeared in three games and saw just seven at-bats before being shut down after experiencing shoulder soreness. When the ache didn't go away, Guyer went for further tests that revealed a torn left labrum.
So much for the breakout year.
While the injury was to his non-throwing arm, the surgery ended his season and forced him back to the Minors for 2013. Now in his seventh year of pro ball, Guyer is hoping a hot start will earn him a trip back to the Majors.
He made 15 appearances for the Rays in 2011, homering in his first Major League plate appearance May 6 and becoming the first to homer in his first at-bat at Camden Yards. Last year, he amassed only 92 combined at-bats between Durham and Tampa Bay.
"Anyone in that situation would be frustrated," said the native of West Chester, Penn. "Once I got the surgery, I made it a goal of mine that nothing will stop me from getting back and being stronger than I've ever been.
"Mentally and physically, I tried to prepare and get to the point I needed to be going into Spring Training. I couldn't let it eat away at me too much."
Batting third and playing right field Tuesday, Guyer slugged a three-run homer to left field off southpaw Daniel Rodriguez in the first inning.
"He started me off with a fastball and I was taking it to see what he had got because I hadn't faced him before," Guyer said of his first at-bat. "I fouled one off, then he threw me a curveball and I got into my two-strike approach where I try to stay short with it."
The Bulls proceeded to bat around their lineup and Guyer -- the 12th of 13 Durham hitters to come to the plate in the first -- then pulled a two-run longball over the fence in the left-center field gap off Cole McCurry.
"The first pitch was a fastball and then the second pitch was a changeup that I waited back on and tried to put it in play," he said. "I got over it and I was able to hit it out. I hit it a bit better than the first, but I hit it a little higher. I was running out just in case it came off the top of the Blue Monster [wall in left field]."
It marked Guyer's fourth multi-homer game and he became the 21st player in International League history to go yard twice in one frame. The last IL player to accomplish the feat was Pawtucket catcher Kelly Shoppach in a 14-5 rout of Buffalo on April 23, 2005.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander homered twice for Class A Peoria in a 6-5 win over Clinton on June 5, 2008, and he replicated the achievement on a three-hit night for Double-A Tennessee in a 13-5 rout of Mobile on June 16, 2010. Most recently, he hammered two homers for the Smokies in a 5-4 loss to Chattanooga on Aug. 12, 2010.
Only two Durham Bulls -- catcher Pete LaForest on the road in Pawtucket on June 21, 2005 and Justin Ruggiano on May 9, 2009 in Gwinnett -- have homered three times in one game.
Guyer had three chances to clear the fences again, but he reached on a fielding error by right fielder Joey Terdoslavich in the third, got grazed on the left elbow by reliever Wifrin Obispo in the fifth and struck out swinging in the eighth.
Selected by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2007 Draft out of the University of Virginia and then dealt to the Rays in an eight-player trade on Jan. 8, 2011, Guyer matched a career high in RBIs that he set in Durham's 8-5 win over Indianapolis on May 3, 2011.
"I'm just collecting some at-bats down here," he added. "Whatever happens is going to happen. It was a long rehab process and I made it a point to come back stronger than ever, but I still have a lot of work to do.
Durham third baseman Cole Figueroa went 3-for-4, missing the cycle by a homer, and Wil Myers collected two hits, two RBIs and a run scored. Alex Torres (1-0) scattered two hits and a walk while striking out three batters over five innings for the win.
Gwinnett's Daniel Rodriguez (0-1) yielded nine runs on seven hits and two walks over a third of an inning. First baseman Ernesto Mejia homered, doubled and plated three for the Braves