Thairo Estrada breaks out in a big way for the RailRiders

MOOSIC, Pa. – Thairo Estrada hadn’t homered since Aug. 8, 2017, when he was playing with the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

After breaking on to the scene in 2017, Estrada suffered a gunshot wound in his right hip during a February 2018 robbery attempt while he was back home in Venezuela. He was still able to make his Triple-A debut on April 30, but his season was cut short after the injury didn’t heal properly.

With a stint within the Arizona Fall League and a successful spring training behind him, Estrada opened this season with the RailRiders. Six games into the season, and his first call-up to the bigs later, Estrada was rounding the bags once again. Twice.

Thairo Estrada is starting to look like the prospect he was said to be before suffering a gunshot wound that ended up costing him most of the 2018 season. (Matt Bufano)

Estrada sent homers into both corners of PNC Field during Saturday’s 10-3 win, in what might be evidence of Estrada’s pre-injury play, when he was a touted middle infield prospect in the New York Yankees’ farm system.

“That’s something I’ve been working on the last few weeks – trying to get that timing and putting my time in, in the cage and during (batting practice), just to get back to my old form that I know I’m capable of doing,” Estrada said through an interpreter. “I feel good – thanking God, obvious, first and foremost. It’s obviously something I’ve been working on and I want to keep focusing on the day-to-day little things that I’ve been working on here.”

While Estrada did get off to a slow start, hitting just .136 with just two extra-base hits in five games heading into Saturday’s tilt against Buffalo, the three-hit, two-home run day was an encouraging step forward.

Thairo Estrada was set to open the season with the RailRiders until he got the call-up to the bigs due to an injury to Troy Tulowitzki(Matt Bufano)

Not only did Estrada produce his third career two-homer game, but one home run was to opposite field while he pulled the other.

“It’s something with the work that I’ve put in and the time – it’s good to see those results because it’s stuff that I know I’m capable of doing,” Estrada said. “Being able to drive the ball that’s on the pull side and then go oppo, it says a lot about the things that I’ve actually been able to cover and work on, on a daily basis. Obviously, it wasn’t something I expected, but with the work, as we go forward, I’m going to start looking forward to getting results and stay on the field and produce in any way possible.”

The slow start for Estrada never worried RailRiders manager Jay Bell.

It was just five games and the middle infielder’s talent was bound to bump his batting average above the Mendoza line sooner or later. The encouraging part of Estrada’s game was that he was executing his swings well.

On Saturday, the results arrived

“You love the great results – there’s no doubt about that – but for me, you love the fact that the swings themselves, the actual execution of the swing results aside, was really good,” Bell said. “I was really pleased with what happened.”

“I’m really impressed with what he’s capable of doing. His barrel-to-ball capabilities are really good. He makes good contact.”

Estrada admitted on Saturday that he never really felt 100 percent last season.

For him, he just had to take it one day at a time and take care of the little things. Soon enough all of his hard work would pay off and he would regain that impressive 2017 form when he batted .301 with six home runs, 19 doubles, and 48 RBI in 122 games with the Thunder.

It just took a little longer than he had expected.

“It definitely is something I’ve had to work on. Kind of getting in that shape and form that I’ve been in the past,” Estrada said. “I’m taking it day by day, which is one of the things you really have to pay attention to. When you’re coming back from these things, you have to kind of put in the time because you know eventually these things will kind of go back to where they’re supposed to.”

Not only has this season present Estrada with an opportunity to get back to his old self, but it also included his first call to the bigs.

The 23-year-old was called up by the Yankees when Troy Tulowitzki went down with a groin injury on April 4. Estrada’s stint only lasted for two days, being optioned back down on April 6.

But that taste of the Bronx and his time in big-league camp this spring has Estrada motivated. The next time the Yankees call his name, he’ll be ready for a longer run.

“It’s a huge step,” Estrada said. “For me to be able to experience that and get up there, and not only that but be able to get some at-bats and be on the field this year all the way from spring training to this point, it’s a blessing to be able to do that. I’m very encouraged and excited to see what the year has. Just to be able to get going and put up the numbers I know I can, based on the playing time I have.”