Max Pentecost went two full seasons without playing the field after a shoulder injury cost him the entire 2015 campaign. Now that he's settling back in on defense, his offense is reaching another level.
The Blue Jays' No. 12 prospect went 3-for-5 with a homer on Friday, helping Class A Advanced Dunedin defeat Fort Myers, 8-4, at CenturyLink Sports Complex. The long ball was his sixth of the season and fifth in his last seven games, a stretch during which he's collected 12 RBIs.
"I feel a whole lot better this year," Pentecost said. "Last year after taking a whole year off, I was trying to get back into the groove of everything, from getting my timing and my swing down and seeing pitches -- it took a while to get into a groove and feel comfortable. This year in Spring Training I was able to get some at-bats early, and it's been a lot easier to just go with the flow and be ready as opposed to last year."
Pentecost singled in his first two at-bats against Miracle right-hander Keaton Steele, once to center field to load the bases in a three-run first inning and to left in the third. After Cavan Biggio homered with one out in the fourth to give the Blue Jays a 6-2 lead, Pentecost followed with a blast to left-center to go back-to-back.
"He came in and threw a fastball for a strike and then I kind of swung at one that was low and he went back away with a curveball," Pentecost said. "At that point, I said I'm going to shorten up and see what I can do with it, and I got a hanging slider and was able to put the barrel on it."
The 24-year-old backstop struck out against right-hander Williams Ramirez in the sixth before lining out to first against lefty Jonny Drozd in the eighth in his quest for a fourth hit. The three-hit night extended his hitting streak to 13 games, as Pentecost has hit in every contest since going 0-for-4 in the Blue Jays' opener.
"I had been getting swing-happy early in the count and swinging at pitches I shouldn't, but I'm calming down, relaxing and making sure I see the pitches well," Pentecost said. "The first couple games, I felt like I was swinging defensively and wasn't attacking the ball -- trying to see it more than hit it. It's good and bad, but I don't go up there with the mindset of taking a walk, I'm just looking for something I can hit. A lot of [my hits] have been jam shots and hits off the end of the bat, but sometimes you just have to take them and run with them."
Not only is Pentecost producing at the plate, he's also returned to donning the tools of ignorance this season. Friday was his third game behind the plate and first since April 22, a layoff that's part of the organization's plan to ease him back into a full-time catching routine.
The 2014 first-round pick has still spent most of his time at designated hitter this year, logging three more at first base and three as catcher. He's 6-for-12 with two homers, three RBIs and four runs in those games behind the plate and 5-for-14 with three homers, nine RBIs, two doubles and three runs as a first baseman. Pentecost is 9-for-33 with one homer, three RBIs and two runs scored in his eight games at DH.
"[Playing the field] keeps you in the game the whole game," Pentecost said. "DHing for the first two at-bats, you're really into it. In the latter half of the game, you're trying to keep yourself focused, stretched and warm, it's a little tough. Once you start playing in games again, it brings more fun to it."
Danny Jensen, Toronto's 22nd-ranked prospect, went 2-for-5 with an RBI and Derrick Loveless also had two hits and an RBI while scoring twice. Kevin Vicuna drove in two runs with a third-inning single.
Conor Fisk (1-2) allowed three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits and two walks while striking out three over six innings for Dunedin.
Steele (1-3) surrendered seven runs on nine hits and four walks with one strikeout in four frames for the Miracle.