As rain washes out Blue Jays, Bichette encouraged by recent success

Hazel Mae and Ben Nicholson-Smith chat about the missed opportunity for the Toronto Blue Jays to have a win in this series against the Baltimore Orioles but highlight the positive aspects of individual players' performances.

BALTIMORE – As the rain kept pouring at Camden Yards, reality finally set in: this was not the night to try to play baseball.

Instead, the Blue Jays and Orioles will make up Wednesday’s series finale as part of a double-header on Sept. 5, the next time Toronto visits Baltimore. Jose Berrios, Wednesday’s scheduled starter, will now pitch at home Friday against the visiting Guardians. 

If anyone benefits from the postponement, it’s the Blue Jays, who will likely have George Springer back in the lineup when the game is made up. Plus, the Orioles have been playing some of their best baseball in years. Avoiding them isn’t a bad thing right now.

Because of the rain, the Blue Jays finish their three-city road trip to Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore with a 3-5 record. They also lost Springer, Ross Stripling and Tim Mayza to the injured list during that stretch, so to some observers it felt like more than a 10-day trip.

“It feels like 15,” interim manager John Schneider said Wednesday afternoon. “Three cities is tough. It’s three good teams and it’s three teams that are all fighting for a playoff spot. Road trips are tough … we’re looking forward to getting back home and starting a good homestand.”

At this point, the rest of the Blue Jays’ pitching plans against Cleveland are still to be determined, but they did announce that Stripling (right hip strain) will pitch in a triple-A rehab game on Friday, with the possibility of a return to the major leagues if all goes well.

Until then, some notes on two prominent Blue Jays position players…

INSIDE BICHETTE’S APPROACH

With a pair of opposite-field home runs Tuesday, Bo Bichette put together one of his best offensive games in a season that’s been challenging at times. On Wednesday afternoon, Bichette said those home runs in the Blue Jays’ 6-5 loss are a sign that his swing is where it needs to be. 

“I’m just trusting my ability, trusting my bat speed and trusting my swing,” Bichette said. “And I’m seeing the ball well.”

Ideally, Bichette would pull breaking balls and off-speed pitches, while slashing fastballs to the opposite field the way he did on a 99 m.p.h. heater from Bryan Baker on Tuesday.

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“I think my biggest strength is hitting the ball the other way,” Bichette said. “Sometimes I try to force that instead of just letting it happen. But I think I’m doing a good job of just letting the ball travel and trusting my swing.”

Over the years, Schneider has watched as many of Bichette’s at-bats as anyone, having managed the 24-year-old at double-A before coaching and managing him at the big-league level. From his vantage point in the dugout, the interim manager likes what he sees.

“I’ve told Bo many times, if you’re swinging at balls in the strike zone, you’re going to fare better than most,” Schneider said. “It’s when you’re out of the strike zone, like any hitter, is when you’re going to struggle. Right now, he’s taking a good swing at the right pitch.”

As Schneider notes, the contrast is stark. When Bichette swings at pitches in the strike zone, they leave his bat going at least 100 m.p.h. 15 per cent of the time (100 of 665 pitches). When Bichette chases outside of the zone, that number drops to 3.0 per cent (10 of 328 pitches).

“It’s been a grind for him all year. He’s been open about that,” Schneider added. “But if he can stay on that side of the field with authority, he’s in good shape.”

Whatever has happened to this point in the season, Bichette aims for a simple approach whenever he steps into the batter’s box.

“Being in the right frame of mind,” he said. “Being in the moment. Not trying to get my season back in one swing.”

HOW TO USE WHIT

Teams like the Giants and Rays have effectively mixed and matched with position players in recent years, finding ways to maximize platoon advantages at the plate and field the best defensive teams possible late in games.

So far, the Blue Jays are using Whit Merrifield along those lines as well. The 33-year-old was replaced by Bradley Zimmer in Tuesday’s game and out of the starting lineup Wednesday, but that was all by design.

“He’s totally fine,” Schneider said before Wednesday’s postponement. “Just trying to maximize everyone and utilize everyone’s skillset that we have. He’ll probably find his way into the game at some point today.”

One way or another, Merrifield has appeared in each of the six games the Blue Jays have played since he joined the team, though he only played every inning in three of those games. As someone who played every single game from 2019-21, Merrifield certainly has the ability to do exactly that, if needed of him again. But at this point, the Blue Jays are content to be more selective in the hopes of getting the best results possible.

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