TORONTO – That Yusei Kikuchi is an unstable element in the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Of course, more was expected of the southpaw as he signed for $36 million for three years out of lockout, but it was a risky, high-upside play and the type of season he’s plodding through was a very important spectrum of possibilities.
The Blue Jays, barring a surprise, will need him next week to start against the Baltimore Orioles and then, with Ross Stripling likely heading for a comeback after pitching five shutout innings for triple-A Buffalo during a rehab start Friday. in Syracuse, they will have to make a decision.
‘Vintage Strip’, is how interim manager John Schneider described the outing. “We hope that today was all he needed and that he will come back to us as soon as possible.”
That should help the Blue Jays stabilize the back of their rotation, which is necessary.
Even more shocking is Jose Berrios’ mind-boggling season, who conceded eight earned runs for the second time in 2022, this time over four innings from a discouraging 8-0 Drubbing by the Cleveland Guardians on Friday night.
The last loss of the ace righthander signed on a $131 million seven-year extension over the winter came just a week after a rough outing in Minnesota, where he gave up five runs in 3.2 innings. In six July starts prior to that, Berrios had seemingly turned the corner and threw to a 3.00 ERA striking out 42 in 36 innings, but in this year of extremes for him, the only thing that has been consistent is the inconsistency of his results.
“The theme for him is that when he misses, he doesn’t really come off the hook,” said Schneider, later adding: “He’s frustrated. He’s trying and he’s working his ass off. Hopefully the next one is better. I think it will gets a little frustrating when it’s the same theme over and over.”
While the stark difference between his home/away splits is often cited as a point of contention, a more disturbing breakdown is that in 15 outings against teams better than .500, his ERA is 6.61, while in eight starts versus sub. .500 clubs it’s 3.77 .
It’s worth noting that there are mixed strong performances against Houston, St. Louis, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Obviously, though, as Schneider said, he doesn’t get away with much, especially against better setups.
“I can say I’ve thrown good fastballs, good subs, good breakballs and if they catch me I’m doing something wrong,” Berrios said. “(Saturday) I’ll come in, show some videos and see where we are.”
Take Friday for example.
Berrios crossed the first two innings before hitting number 8 batter Austin Hedges with one out in the third. Will Benson followed with a single and then Steven Kwan put down a perfect bunt that stayed just well past the third baseline to load the bases.
Amed Rosario then roped a curveball just below the center zone for a two-run single and after a sacrifice fly by Jose Ramirez to the center yielded a third run, Josh Naylor of Mississauga, Ontario sent this 94.3 mph fastball across the center. wall on the left to make it 5-0.
Really, it wasn’t a bad pitch.
The next inning, a three-run shot by Ramirez that made it 8-0, was even more daring, the star third baseman waved this Berrios substitution just above his ankles over the wall in center right.
It’s obscene, and while both home runs count toward his pitching line, there’s reason to believe that Berrios isn’t necessarily in crisis, even if he’s far from his best.
“We called Naylor’s homer high fastball. I threw it high and he grabbed me. Ramirez, we threw a good bill down, almost in the sand,” Berrios said, almost shaking his head. “This is baseball and they made an adjustment like we do and they got me tonight.”
Anyway, the Blue Jays, 60-51 in the rapidly ascending wildcard standings, are facing their first real bout of challenge under Schneider, having lost five times in their last six games, each against a team of more than .500.
They are now 29-39 against teams with winning records, worse than Seattle, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Minnesota, the four teams closest to them.
“The way the guys come out every day is great. It just doesn’t click right now,” says Schneider. “We’ll be the first to tell you that. I’ll be the first to tell you that. We’re playing a little shit. It is what it is. If you come tomorrow, you want to win.”
Complicating things is that, in the continued absence of George Springer, their offense has been unable to overcome some recent outbursts from the pitching staff.
Riding primarily on a sinker-cutter mix, Cal Quantrill of Port Hope, Ontario equaled a season-high with seven strikeouts and gave up only one basehit, an one-out double to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in the fourth to tie the all-star. first baseman’s hit streak to 21 games.
“Probably the approach could have changed a bit in the middle innings, but he kept us off balance, working with sinker/cutter, mixing with a curveball and a few changes,” Schneider said of Quantrill. “He was on his game and you should tip your hat to him.”
Digging early 5-0 holes is not easy and that is certainly taken into account. But playing a game early on the plate can also ease the burden on staff.
Schneider acknowledged that the Blue Jays haven’t played great “on either side of the ball” in the past week and suggested the toll of a 10-day, three-city road trip the team overtook on Friday. None of that should shake confidence in the belief that “we’re a really good team with really good players and want to play really competitive baseball.”
“Are we raising our standards? Absolutely not,” he continued. “We know they’re going to turn it around because they’re so talented.”
The same goes for Berrios.
“We still think he’s a great pitcher,” said Schneider. “Of course we believe in him very much. Hopefully he’ll just turn it around. But he’s a man we’re not just relying on this year, but many years ahead, and we’re confident he’s going to figure it out.”
While the Blue Jays try to solve other problems on the list, the sooner he does it, the better.