BALTIMORE – An impressive opening week in the major leagues brings Bo Bichette home to St. Petersburg, Fla., riding a seven-game hit streak and with a number of firsts already in the books.
The Toronto Blue Jays shortstop has amassed 13 hits, including five doubles and two home runs, along with three walks in 35 plate appearances, and will look to extend his torrid start during a three-game series against the host Tampa Bay Rays starting Monday night.
"It’s been good," Bichette said of his first experiences in the big-leagues. "Definitely things I need to get better at and things I love that I’ve done so far. And we played well. I know the last two games weren’t great but we played well overall."
Tropicana Field is roughly seven kilometres north of Lakewood High School, where Matt Bishoff, then the club’s area scout, identified him as a target for the 2016 draft. The Blue Jays are lucky that they had two picks in the second round that year, taking outfielder J.B. Woodman at No. 57 before circling back to get Bichette at No. 66, two spots after the New York Mets plucked all-star first baseman Pete Alonso.
He likely would not have been there for them in the third round, so credit to Bishoff, assistant GM Tony LaCava and former amateur scouting director Brian Parker for being among those to stump for Bichette.
Woodman was traded in Dec. 2017 for Aledmys Diaz, who a year later turned into Trent Thornton.
Bichette is sure to be a popular man during the series but "hopefully not too crazy. I know we’ve had a lot of people trying to get tickets and stuff. I just try to go out there and have fun with it. I’m sure it will be a pretty cool experience."
Ken Giles returned to the mound in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, working around a walk to Stevie Wilkerson in an otherwise clean eighth inning.
The outing was his first since two Saturdays ago, and came five days after he received a cortisone shot from Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas to counter some ongoing elbow inflammation.
His fastball topped out at 97.2 m.p.h. and sat 96.2 against the Orioles, a jump from the 95.61 it sat in his previous outing. How he’ll be used now that he’s active again is something the Blue Jays plan to feel their way through.
"I’m going to be careful with him, probably not back-to-back early on," said manager Charlie Montoyo. "It’s up to him. If he feels great (Monday) and there’s a save situation we might use him. But I don’t think we want to. We want to go easy with him. It looked good (Sunday)."
Playing time has been hard to come by for backup catcher Reese McGuire, who joined the Blue Jays two Saturdays ago in a scrambled rush after Luke Maile strained his oblique during pre-game early work.
The 24-year-old has made three starts since behind Danny Jansen, and he’s been working to adjust to the inconsistent work, something he did between an outing Wednesday in Kansas City and Saturday in Baltimore, when he hit his first homer of the year.
"In Kansas City when I played I was a little anxious because I was excited to be back out there and then all of a sudden, the game’s just flying by," he said. "Towards the end I’m realizing, man, did I really slow the game down and really get myself ready for each single pitch when I was up there to bat? That’s what me and Guillermo (Martinez, the hitting coach) have been working on in the cage, slowing down the rhythm, making sure you’re seeing the ball well and then let the hands and the body do the work. That’s a key."
McGuire started slowly at the plate at triple-A Buffalo this season with a .570 OPS in April, but has a .718 OPS since then. His defensive work has remained strong throughout, with Thomas Pannone crediting him for stealing several strikes at the bottom of the zone Saturday, and all season long when paired together.
"That’s huge for me, I love hearing that feedback from guys because when I get out there on the field, I’m all in for them and willing to sacrifice my body for them," said McGuire. "I take a lot of pride in my defence and that’s always been a strong-suit of mine. There are going to be days when you’re 0-fer and the bat’s not there. But the glove can always be there and the fingers can always be there and the focus can always be there. With the speed of the game up here, and you’ve got matchups with righties-lefties coming out of the bullpen, you’ve always got to stay locked in, you can’t let a single at-bat carry over to defence. That’s something I take pride in."