Blue Jays Takeaways: Bo Bichette chasing history with hot start

Bo Bichette extended his hitting streak to eight games and scored both runs and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 2-0.

The Toronto Blue Jays shut out the Tampa Bay Rays Monday, 2-0, winning for the sixth time in their last eight. The Blue Jays are now on pace to win 65 games and avoid the indignity of a 100-loss campaign. Of course, losing 97 times would still make this the least successful 162-game season of Blue Jays baseball since Justin Trudeau’s father was Prime Minister. Sure, there were lower winning percentages in the strike-shortened 1981 and 1995 seasons, if you want to be like that. Regardless, it’s been a while.

Anyway, aside from its adverse effect on the club’s draft position and bonus pool allotment next June, the Blue Jays recent run of hot play has given fans plenty to feel positive about, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has finally broken out, the club’s pitching has markedly improved despite losing 40 per cent of a rotation plus two set-up men, and Bo Bichette has arrived to punish baseballs into the dead of night.

And we might as well start there. Because Bo Bichette might just be the truth.

Bo Bichette is here

When Bichette bounced one off the right field wall in the first inning Friday, missing a homer by about a half-metre, it gave him six consecutive games with a double and eight consecutive games with a hit to begin his MLB career. He’d already set a franchise record with 14 hits in his first eight games. If he’d stopped there, it would’ve been pretty good.

But he didn’t. Bichette came back up in the third and drilled an 0-1 Charlie Morton breaking ball over that right field wall for his third home run in those eight games. It was his ninth extra-base hit, tying him with Trevor Story (2016) and Alvin Davis (1984) for the most through a player’s first eight games since such feats began being tracked in 1908.

And in the seventh inning, Bichette nearly hit another one out, lofting a ball up the right field line that sliced just in front of the foul pole. If that ball curved a little less, and the one in the first inning had a little more muscle behind it, Bichette could’ve had a three-homer night.

What he does have is an eight-game hit streak to begin his Blue Jays career, giving him a share of the franchise record along with silver slugger winner Jesse Barfield and, uh, Ryan Goins? Yes, your grandmother’s favourite shortstop had 12 hits in his first eight MLB games before going on to post a 67 OPS+ through his 506 big-league contests to date. The Blue Jays certainly hope the next 500 games or so go a lot better for Bichette.

And all signs indicate they will. Bichette’s been crushing baseballs since high school. But while his bat clearly plays, there remains room for improvement defensively at short. Bichette committed two errors Monday, giving him four over his first 61 big-league innings.

Of course, balls come off bats harder at the MLB level than in the minors, and runners get up the line quicker, which changes a fielder’s clock. Bichette isn’t the first and won’t be the last young player to struggle to adjust to those new realities upon advancing to baseball’s highest level of competition.

It’s why Bichette receiving as much playing time as possible at short should be a priority for manager Charlie Montoyo over his team’s final 47 games. Montoyo loves Freddy Galvis, and it probably takes every fibre of his being not to pencil the dependable veteran’s name in at short each day when he fills out the lineup card. But the kid’s gotta play. There’s no questioning Bichette’s bat through his first eight games as a big leaguer. Now, the Blue Jays need to continue working to get the rest of his game up to speed.

Jacob Waguespack is also here

It’s early days, but the Blue Jays may have found something in Jacob Waguespack, the return in last season’s deadline trade of Aaron Loup to the Philadelphia Phillies. The 25-year-old spun six scoreless innings against the Rays Monday, and now has a 3.66 ERA over his first five major-league starts.

Waguespack doesn’t strike too many hitters out, but he uses a versatile mix of four-seamers, two-seamers, cutters, change-ups, sliders and curveballs to keep opponents off balance and generate weak contact. When he’s using all those pitches all over the zone like he was Monday, Waguespack can be a very tough pitcher for a hitter to square up:

Today’s game doesn’t highly value pitchers like Waguespack who rely on so many balls in play, because their outcomes are impacted more by luck (the wind blowing out, balls taking funny hops off infield dirt, the lights in an outfielder’s eyes) than those who get a high percentage of their outs via strikeout. But if the ball’s going to be in play, it might as well be softly hit, and that’s what Waguespack excelled at Monday night at Tropicana Field, where weather elements aren’t a factor.

He allowed only one ball to come off a bat at higher than 100-m.p.h. and held Tampa hitters to an average exit velocity of 88.4-m.p.h. Considering how well MLB teams position their players these days, all those softly hit groundballs and flyballs are reliably turned into outs.

It’s not as sexy as a 10-strikeout outing but if Waguespack can continue to mix and match with his many pitches, attack the zone, and generate weak contact, he’ll have everything he needs to build a successful MLB career. And on a pitching-starved Blue Jays club, he’ll have the opportunity to continue making starts between now and the end of the season.

Odds and ends

• Here’s a heads-up play by Reese McGuire, catching Michael Brousseau straying too far from second base:

• And here’s a great one by Randal Grichuk, tracking down a 109-m.p.h. liner and starting a double play:

• Grichuk also had the hardest-hit ball of the night, a 109.7-m.p.h. single off Rays starter Charlie Morton. And Vladimir Guerrero Jr. put a pair of balls in play at north of 100-m.p.h., as he does, extending his hit streak to nine games with a single in the ninth.

• Justin Smoak faced a four-man outfield when hitting left-handed without runners on base, as the Rays aligned their defence to his spray chart. Smoak talked about potentially bunting against the strategy during spring training, but he found a simpler approach to beating it Monday by merely driving a ball between two of the outfielders. Take that, percentages! (The Rays still held Smoak to a single on a ball that would’ve otherwise been a double, so the tactic nevertheless provided some value)

• Derek Law, who is apparently now Toronto’s closer when Ken Giles is unavailable, recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season. Law’s ERA was north of seven after his first 29 innings as a Blue Jay, and his grip on a roster spot once appeared tenuous. But he’s allowed only one run over 11.1 innings since, and is now the team’s second option to close games. Sometimes, rebuilding baseball’s a real trip.

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