Gabriel Moreno impresses in home debut as Blue Jays fall to Orioles

TORONTO — At only 23 years old, with 122 games and counting on his ledger, Alejandro Kirk is no grizzled veteran. But back in September 2020, as a talented but relatively inexperienced top prospect promoted somewhat unexpectedly by the contending Toronto Blue Jays, he lived the type of crash-course introduction to the majors Gabriel Moreno is undergoing right now.

“It’s very similar,” Kirk said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “I don’t have much experience myself, but I’m capable of giving him a lot of advice on how to make adjustments. He’s always asking me different things. He’s always wants to know, wants to learn. I’m doing my best to help him out.”

That the two happen to be close friends — “Gabby is like my brother,” he added — has only made Kirk all the more uniquely suited to serve as a sounding board for Moreno through the early days of his transition to the big-leagues, one the 22-year-old is leaning on.

“We are really good friends, really close,” said Moreno. “We talk about everything. Alejandro is having a great year. He knows how everything works, so he’s showed me (what to do) at different times. He’s helped me with all the little things. He’s helped me a lot.”

Their connection has no doubt helped Moreno impress right out of the gate with his third game the most impressive yet as he collected three hits, two of them run-scoring singles for the first RBIs of his career, in Tuesday night’s 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. It was Moreno’s first game at Rogers Centre after he was on the bench for Monday’s series opener.

Moreno’s night also included easily throwing out Jorge Mateo trying to steal second base in the second inning and a lesson in heat-of-the-moment decision-making in the sixth, when Mateo broke for third as Richie Martin struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Though he deftly picked the ball on a bounce, Moreno neglected to tag Martin to record the out and threw to third trying to get Moreno and both Orioles ended up safe on the unusual play.

Still, the raw tools were beyond obvious and his unflappability at the plate really shone through in the eighth, when his RBI single pulled the Blue Jays within one at 6-5. A George Springer liner to first base ended the inning with the tying run at second and Jorge Kopez managed to shut the door in the ninth before a crowd of 23,106.

Moreno and Kirk first met back in 2016 at the Blue Jays’ complex in the Dominican Republic, where they reported after signing as international free agents. A bond developed quickly and “from that point on me and him were like inseparable,” said Kirk. “We had great chemistry between us.”

A year older than Moreno, Kirk moved through the system a step ahead of his friend. During off-seasons they’d reconnect at fall instructional league or other development camps staged by the Blue Jays, where Luis Hurtado, now a bullpen catcher with the big-league club, would lead their mentoring.

When they reunited in the majors last weekend in Detroit, Kirk was “super excited and very, very happy to have him here in the big-leagues.”