Naylor boosts confidence, Guardians with clutch grand slam

2:20 AM UTC

CLEVELAND — The Guardians have been relying heavily on Steven Kwan and his .353 average at the top of the order over the last few weeks. But when Kwan was removed from Saturday’s game with left hamstring tightness in the fourth inning, the team needed the rest of the offense to step up. And that’s exactly what they did.

After Austin Hedges got Cleveland on the board with a two-run homer in the second, Ramón Laureano added a solo shot in the fourth. However, it was Bo Naylor who flexed his muscles the most, hitting his first career grand slam to help lift the Guardians to a 7-1 victory over the Angels at Progressive Field.

“Hitting a home run in itself, it literally feels like nothing. Like emotions that you really can’t describe,” Naylor said. “But for that moment, it really started in the on-deck circle, you know, in the dugout, just kind of preparing myself for any situation that may come.”

The offensive outburst was much-needed for a Guardians team that was hoping to break out of its first rough patch, having lost five of their last seven games. Naylor’s blast gave the club plenty of breathing room to assure that it would not experience its first three-game losing streak of the season.

But the Naylor long ball was much more than just some insurance runs. He has been scuffling offensively for most of the season and was able to snap an 0-for-10 stretch on Friday night with a single, which got momentum back in his favor. He entered Saturday with a .179 average and .550 OPS. His whiff rate is up and even his expected statistics (like expected batting average and expected slugging) rank among the lowest in the league, which showed he wasn’t just hitting into bad luck.

“So refreshing,” Kwan said when asked about seeing Naylor’s grand slam. “With him and how short his career has been so far, I think every failure he takes so strongly and I think we have to keep reminding him how good of a player he is, how hard he hits the ball every single day. I think he just has such high expectations for himself. To see that go out, I mean everybody’s so happy for him. He’s capable of doing that and so much more.”

Naylor wasn’t behind the dish on Saturday. Guardians manager Stephen Vogt wanted to give him a day as the designated hitter to be able to solely focus on hitting. As a young catcher, the learning curve in the Majors is different from any other position. Not only does Naylor have to adjust to Major League pitching, but he has to focus on and call every pitch his team throws to try to keep his opponents off the scoreboard.

He struggled with his bat last year until the final month of the season while dealing with this adjustment. Now, the Guardians are hoping he can heat up quicker this season.

“It’s good for him to have an offensive day and not have to be locked into scouting reports and calling a game and going back and forth,” Vogt said. “He’s just a click off. What a huge moment for him, left on left, not an easy matchup for him, kind of challenged him a little bit today, but he answered the call and came up with a huge hit.”

Naylor knows that he can compete in the big leagues. In 19 games in September and October, he hit .304 with a 1.052 OPS, so he can always lean on that experience when he needs to remember that he has had offensive success at this level.

One swing can build confidence. It can be the reason a player rights the ship after a rocky stretch. Maybe that’s what the grand slam — and his second hit off of a lefty this season — will do for Naylor.

“Really, just focusing on things that I can control and trying to make a good swing on a ball that I can do something with, and I think that’s been the theme just kind of how this season has gone,” Naylor said. “Some nights I think that hasn’t [gone] my way but I feel like in this game, it will reward you the more consistent you are and the more resilient and dedicated you are to that mentality.”