Blue Jays quickly running out of time as Berrios struggles again

Jose Berrios was lit up for nine hits in three innings and Dylan Cease pitched seven strong with seven strikeouts as the Blue Jays drop game 2 of the series to the White Sox, 5-2.

TORONTO -- George Springer is eligible to be activated from the injured list as soon as Wednesday and in recent days has been ramping up his activities as the Grade 1 sprain in his left knee has improved. Ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 5-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday, he ran the bases, hit off the high-velocity machine and took batting practice, having faced Joakim Soria in a live BP Monday.

For the time being, the star outfielder’s status is quite literally the generic day-to-day.

“Every day, it's 'Hey, how do you feel?' And good, bad or different, we devise a program from there,” Springer said in the Blue Jays dugout after getting his work in. “I do what they tell me and it's up to me to be honest and to communicate how I'm feeling because you don't want to do anything stupid to potentially hurt it worse or whatever the case, get a setback for the next year, which is not ideal. So, take each day for what it is, and hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.”

The Blue Jays, quite obviously, would like his return to be the former as opposed to the latter, and the same urgency suddenly also applies to getting prized trade deadline acquisition Jose Berrios straightened out.

For a third straight outing, the right-hander buried his team early, coughing up a three-run homer to Jose Abreu a mere five pitches into his outing, and had to grind through an array of long at-bats and hard contact to survive three frames.

Berrios gave up four runs in total -- all during a fateful first in which pitching coach Pete Walker was ejected for arguing balls and strikes on his starter’s behalf -- on nine hits while striking out six in only 68 pitches. The White Sox hit five balls at 101.1 m.p.h. or more, plus two more at 96.8 and 96.6 m.p.h., in roughing up the 27-year-old for the third time in four meetings.

As a one-off, the blip would be more easily brushed off, but the Nationals also ambushed Berrios in his last start, which began with a single, an error and a Juan Soto three-run homer. The previous turn, Aug. 12 in Anaheim, the Angels dropped a four-run second on Berrios and scored six in all against him in 4.1 innings.

The common thread each time?

“It's a good question,” said Berrios. “Maybe it's too late, but now I can see that the last three outings, early in the game, they've been so aggressive against me. I have to keep that in mind and make an adjustment around that. Baseball is a game that we have to make adjustments day by day. Now we have an opportunity to do it for the next start.”

Given his propensity to attack the strike zone, his initial thought was to consider more strike-to-ball pitches early to try and capitalize on the aggressiveness of his opponents.

While every starter suffers through bad stretches, this one is clearly ill-timed, with the Blue Jays’ margin for error shrinking by the day and the offence grinding through a dry-spell, an issue compounded by getting Lance Lynn in the series opener and Dylan Cease on Tuesday with Lucas Giolito awaiting Wednesday.

With Cease largely in command over his seven innings of one-run ball, what the Blue Jays needed was the kind of lockdown effort Alek Manoah delivered against Lynn in the opener, rather than a big deficit to dig out from.

“That's a fact -- when you're struggling to score runs, it is tough,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “But one thing about this team, they don't quit and they're facing good pitching and we were in the game until the end.”

The decision to remove Berrios so early meant six innings were dropped on the bullpen, three of which were mopped up by Conner Overton, a candidate to be optioned with Soria nearing activation. Trent Thornton handled the first two frames, allowing a run, while Brad Hand covered the ninth.

“I felt like we've still got a chance and we had enough in the bullpen to cover the innings,” explained Montoyo. “The guys that came out of the bullpen did a great job. We were in the game until the last out. And I thought it was tough for (Berrios) to face the same top of the order three times by the fourth inning. That's why we made the move.”

Their efforts went for naught, as the Blue Jays managed only Corey Dickerson’s solo shot in the seventh and a Lourdes Gurriel Jr., RBI single in the ninth. They also loaded the bases in the eighth against Michael Kopech and Liam Hendriks, the all-star closer they pursued in free agency but whose timeline didn’t match up with their pursuits.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., stepped up as the tying run but fouled off one challenge heater from Hendriks before rolling over another for an inning-ending double play, one that came off the bat at 104.5 m.p.h.

Hendriks, taunted by a crowd of 14,553 chanting “Liam, Liam,” had to strand a pair of runners in the ninth and in throwing 39 pitches, is probably out for the rest of the series.

Springer isn’t a miracle cure-all for everything that currently ails the batting order, but he’d been helping carry the offence when he was hurt landing awkwardly after trying to make a leaping catch against the wall. The pain initially presented in his ankle, but given the way his foot turned as he came down from his jump, he was fortunate to have suffered only a mild sprain in his knee and not a more severe tear.

“Yeah, I got lucky,” he acknowledged. “I can sleep at night knowing that I got lucky. But at the same time, it doesn't do any good if I'm standing there," he said pointing to the corner of the dugout. “I'd rather go out and play.”

To this point, there hasn’t been anything “making me feel like I need to not do certain things,” he added. “I'm at the point where it just kind of is what it is. There's not a lot of time left. I want to play. One step at a time and I'll go from there.”

The same goes for Berrios, the offence and a Blue Jays team trying to regain its way, and quickly running out of time to find the route.

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