Griffin Conine hit balls early and hit them often on another big night at the plate.
The Blue Jays' No. 15 prospect went 4-for-5 with two homers, a career-high five RBIs and three runs scored to power Class A Lansing to an 11-7 triumph over South Bend on Tuesday night at Four Winds Field.
Video: Lugnuts' Conine towers second homer to center
It was his third career multi-homer game and second four-hit contest of the season.
The 21-year-old wasted no time at the plate in his first three at-bats. Conine doubled on a line drive to right field in the first inning on the first pitch he saw from Cubs starter Faustino Carrera.
"First at-bat, I wanted to get on a fastball," Conine said. "I knew this guy had really good numbers against lefties. I was pretty sure it was because of the off-speed. From what we saw in video, he had a curve that he could locate pretty well. He would usually get ahead with the fastball the first time through the lineup, so I was really just looking for that."
In his second at-bat, Conine was looking for an off-speed pitch and blooped an RBI single to left on the first offering.
"I knew he wasn't gonna come first pitch again with a fastball," he said. "He threw me a curve and I kind of took an odd swing at it and it fell over the third baseman's head. It was what I was looking for, I just waited too long on it."
Gameday box score
After that, Conine said he knew he was comfortable at the plate and was going to have a good night. In the fifth, he took Carrera's first pitch for a ball before smacking a two-run blast to right. He wasn't expecting anything specific from the southpaw, just reading and reacting to whatever he threw.
"I felt like I was in a really good spot with my setup and where I was landing with my front foot," he said. "So after that, I just saw the next slider up in the zone, belt-high, and I just waited a little bit on it and it went right into the barrel."
Needing a triple to complete the cycle, Conine went deep into his at-bat in the seventh against right-handed reliever Jeffrey Passantino. After fouling off a couple of pitches, he took the sixth pitch and launched a towering two-run homer over the batters' eye in center.
"I was really just trying to put the bat on the ball there," the Duke University product said. "I really hate striking out. It's something that I'd been prone to in the past and it's something I'm still working on. So I was really doing everything I could to make contact, and he kinda left one over the middle of the plate there."
Conine initially thought that the ball was going to go off the high wall in center, with a chance at the cycle if he reached third safely.
"I was booking it out of the box," he said, "I was trying to go for the triple. I thought maybe it would hit off the wall, catch a little crevice in the wall and bounce far away. But it ended up clearing it."
With another shot at the cycle, Conine struck out swinging against righty Sean Barry in the eighth.
It was just the 12th game of the season for the Florida native, who was suspended for the first 50 games after testing positive for the stimulant Ritalinic Acid in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He spent time in the Blue Jays extended spring training program in Dunedin.
"I was getting tons of at-bats," Conine said. "It was the hardest I've ever worked on my game. The offseason's one thing, but as far as getting game reps, working with the hitting coaches they had there, there were some long days. It was tough, for sure, especially when everyone ships off for the season and goes to their teams and I'm still there."
Conine wanted to take advantage of the time in Florida and work out some kinks in his swing.
2019 MiLB include
"Bad habits I developed that had become pretty severe and led to some issues last season," he said. "And I worked out a lot of them."
Conine said he wanted to start his season with a bang. A second-round pick in last year's Draft, he raised his average to .438 with six roundtrippers, two triples, five doubles and 16 RBIs. He played 57 games last summer between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Class A Short Season Vancouver and batted .243/.314/.430 with 24 extra-base hits, including seven homers, and 33 RBIs.
Hagen Danner chipped in two hits, including a two-run homer, while Reggie Pruitt tripled, singled, walked and scored three times for Lansing. Reliever Joey Pulido (2-2) tossed four scoreless innings for the win, allowing three hits while striking out five.