TORONTO – Stretching in the on-deck circle ahead of his first inning at-bat Aug. 15 against the Tampa Bay Rays, Bo Bichette felt a pop in his right knee. For about 10 seconds it hurt, but the pain soon dissipated, the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop remained in the game until it was suspended after four innings because of rain, and thought nothing of it until he returned to the clubhouse.
“I sat down and it started to puff up,” Bichette recalled Saturday. “To be honest, I was like, I will probably feel better tomorrow, so I went home, I didn't tell anybody. Woke up the next day and had to call Jose (Ministral, the club’ head trainer) and tell them that there's no way I can go that day. So just kind of a freak incident and I'll do everything I can to make sure it doesn't happen again.”
Bichette returned to the Blue Jays on Saturday after a four-week, 27-game absence due to a Grade 1 knee sprain, having prepared as best he could during a stint at the club’s alternate training site in nearby Rochester.
Though the entire rehab situation was “not ideal,” he made the best of it, playing every day and doing all he could to get his legs back in shape, trying to simulate “everything that I would do in a game.”
“The adrenaline down there isn't very much,” he continued. “But I kind of forced myself to steal a base, forced myself to dive for a ball in the field -- just to just to make sure that I was comfortable doing everything, and everything was good. I'm ready to go.”
Bichette will return at shortstop and though he wants to play every day, he won’t right out of the gate, as the Blue Jays try to manage his workload. Given the concurrent absences of Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez, both lost to injury in the past week, he had thoughts of trying to rush himself back, but was talked out of it by his parents.
“I was already ahead of schedule, so they weren't too excited with me thinking that way,” said Bichette, whose dad Dante is a coach with the club. “But I did a really good job with the rehab. I think I'm four or five days ahead of the original plan.”
His return comes at an ideal time, with two-and-a-half weeks left in the pandemic-shortened schedule and the Blue Jays in control of their destiny in possession of a playoff spot.
When he hit the injured list Aug. 16, the Blue Jays lost both the completion of the suspended game he was injured in and the regularly scheduled contest that followed, falling to a season-worst four games under .500 at 7-11.
The club went 17-9 in his absence, and while Tellez was among those to praise Bichette for being a leader from the sidelines, he rejoins a team now four games over the break-even point.
“I did what I could,” said Bichette. “Everything that they overcame is on them. They did an amazing job. For me, it was just about making sure that nobody knew that I was upset about being out. Making sure that people knew that I was still engaged in the game, help anyway that I could. At the same time, I wanted to stay out of their way. I always believed in these guys. And so, I'm not surprised at all that they kept on winning, kept on playing hard and kept on believing in themselves. It was really fun to watch and just excited to be back.”
As Major League Baseball’s post-season bubble plans move closer to fruition, some Blue Jays aren’t convinced it’s needed to successfully stage the playoffs.
According to a report by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the main hurdle remaining is how families will enter the bubble. The first round of the expanded playoffs would be played at the home park of the higher seeds, with subsequent rounds being staged in Arlington, Houston, San Diego and Dodgers Stadium, but union approval is needed.
Should the Blue Jays advance that far, the priority for closer Ken Giles is ensuring that his family can be there with him.
“There have been some hiccups, but we’ve been able to overcome those hiccups as an MLB team,” said Giles. “If you want to do a bubble, then bubbling is just fine. For me, I just ask for the important people in my life to be there, to enjoy the moment with me and my teammates and everyone’s families and kids. Playoffs are a special thing and having your loved ones around will benefit everyone in the long run.”
Giles’ family has been with him since the club arrived in Buffalo, and “it really did help me throughout my rehab process.”
Bichette believes that since the early season outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, teams have done a much better job of following protocols, which is why he says, “to be honest, I'm not sure if the bubble is completely necessary.”
“We'll keep on talking to or our players association and hearing what they have to say about their communication with MLB,” added Bichette. “Hopefully we come to something that's beneficial for everybody.”
The NHL and NBA both staged their returns in bubbles, and with $787 million in post-season revenue at stake, Major League Baseball wants to ensure a positive test doesn’t submarine the lucrative payoff.
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo quipped that “I honestly feel like I’ve been in a bubble the whole time,” which is why he says, “whatever baseball thinks is good, I’m in. I know they’re thinking about it. I’m not thinking about it, I’m thinking about this game, and tomorrow’s game. That’s far for me to be thinking about. But whatever baseball thinks is the right thing to do, I’m in.”
While Giles’ return from the injured list is critical to the Blue Jays’ post-season fortunes, it’s also pivotal to his off-season fortunes in free agency.
A good stretch along with a strong performance in the post-season would certainly help ease any concerns about his health, and demonstrate his ability to deliver on a big stage. For now, though, Giles insists that he’s not worried about the bigger picture.
“It doesn’t benefit me to look too far into the future,” he said. “Does it suck that (the injury) happened? Absolutely, because I wanted to repeat what I did last year, short season or not. Overall, I can’t whittle myself down to the ground, I can’t feel sorry for myself.
"You know what? I go out there and compete as best I can, and show that I’m healthy, all the questions will be answered if I show them I’m healthy and get through the season in one piece, basically. I’ll let that stuff work itself out towards the off-season. As of right now, we’re looking toward the post-season and I’m going to do my best to compete for the guys.”
From the moment the Blue Jays added Alejandro Kirk to the taxi squad Sept. 1, they prepped him for his promotion to the majors by having him catch side sessions for pitchers and including him in the daily pre-game meeting with the starter, catchers and pitching coach.
“We’re not just going to put him out there,” said Montoyo. “That was by design, we wanted him to learn all the pitchers, man on second what the guys like to throw, tendencies of hitters, all that stuff.”