Bassitt’s career night puts Blue Jays on cusp of post-season berth

Brandon Belt crushed a three-run home run and Chris Bassitt took a shutout into the eighth inning as the Toronto Blue Jays blanked the New York Yankees 6-0.

TORONTO – The two measures of a pitcher that Chris Bassitt values most are games started and innings pitched.

Quality starts carry some significance, strikeouts matter, too, as do limiting hits and walks, ERA and, wins, obviously. But if you want to fully gauge the depth of contribution to a club, the important stuff is right there under GS and IP in the stat line.

“I understand who I am and what my role is – I’m expected to go deep into the games,” Bassitt explained in a recent interview. “I know people can’t really quantify if I go eight innings, how much that affects the next two, three games. There’s not a number you can put on that. Unfortunately, in our game, since we can’t put a number on it, it’s kind of like, we’re not going to worry about it. But you ask any bullpen guy, you ask anyone that is involved with pitching, basically all these starters that can throw five innings, they might be able to throw up some really good stats because you’re not facing teams three or four times through. But at the same time, you’re really hurting the team when it comes to the next couple of days because of the amount of innings you’re throwing on the bullpen. 

“So then the next day you’re running short, the next day you’re running short and it’s a little bit of a cascade effect of where are these innings going to come from?” he continued. “If you’re taking one from this game and then another game and another game, it’s kind of off. My goal always is to make every single start and throw 200 innings.”

Well, for the first time in his career, it’s mission accomplished for the 34-year-old, who hit the threshold on the mark with 7.2 innings of dominance Thursday night that also put the Blue Jays on the cusp of clinching a post-season berth. 

A 6-0 victory, backed by solo shots from Daulton Varsho and Matt Chapman plus a three-run blow by Brandon Belt after a 20-inning drought, pushed the Blue Jays (88-71) a game ahead of the idle Houston Astros (87-72). Any combination of Toronto wins and Mariners (86-73) losses totalling two, after Seattle rallied to walk-off the Rangers in the ninth 3-2, locks in a wild-card spot for the Blue Jays.

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Bassitt has played a key role in getting the Blue Jays to this point.

“I didn’t try to chase 200 … I tried to chase the post-season, honestly,” said Bassitt. “There’s been a pain that I’ve held for well over a year just because of how last year ended for me (allowing three runs in four innings for the Mets during a 6-0 loss in Game 3 of the wild-card round to San Diego). And I just promised myself that I’m going to give the best chance I got to whoever signed me every single day. That’s truly what I’ve done.”

Indeed, and the full scope of his contributions goes well beyond the numbers alone and is reflected in what he values on the mound.

With 33 starts and 200 innings, he not only replaced the innings lost when Ross Stripling left via free agency but upgraded them, which helped cover some of the performance gap created by Alek Manoah’s struggles.

His 23 outings of at least six innings, 10 of them seven frames or more, allowed the Blue Jays to win on any given night (they were 20-13 overall in games he started) while also building in breathers so relievers could either get rest or pitch at optimal strength more often. 

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“I’ve been lucky enough to play with him for five out of six years now, to be able to see him just continually get better and get smarter, he’s throwing 200 innings at 34 years old, it’s impressive and I’m just super happy for him,” said Matt Chapman, whose solo shot in the fourth made it 2-0 and ended a 29-game homer drought. “It just shows his work ethic. He takes care of his body. He gets himself prepared to pitch every five days. And he leads by example. Other guys watch the way he goes about his business, watch how he takes the ball every five days and luckily, we’ve had a lot of guys take the ball every five days this year. It’s been pretty impressive … and I think Bass really sets the tone for a lot of these guys.”

In ensuring the Blue Jays salvaged their series finale against the Yankees, Bassitt pinned the game down early to give his slumping offence a chance to get on track.

And, as he mentioned, he did it at a time when starters are increasingly having their workloads pared back, in part as workloads are more closely managed, in part because more pitchers are unable to sustain max-effort throwing deep into games, in part because not enough pitchers have a deep enough repertoire to beat hitters three or four times in the same outing.

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Varsho was first to break the dam with a solo shot on Luke Weaver’s first pitch of the third inning, Chapman went deep with one out in the fourth and after a Cavan Biggio RBI single in the fifth, Belt made it 6-0 in the sixth, to the delight of 36,657 at Rogers Centre.

Their noise, once the roof had closed in the early innings after starting the game open, was also a delight to Belt, who is advocating for the roof to be closed more consistently in order to better contain fan noise.

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“In these important games right now, it does have a little bit of a home-field advantage, especially when we get loud in tense moments,” he explained. “It seems to put more pressure on the other team. There’s no data on that, it’s just from experience playing over the years. I know a lot of teams do that. And with the fans, we have here and how good they are, in my view, when it’s closed and we do get loud, it gives us a little bit of a home-field advantage. We can use everything we can get right now as we’re trying to get in the playoffs.”

The loudest cheers came for Bassitt when manager John Schneider pulled him after Aaron Judge struck out to push the righty to the 200-inning mark. Fans gave him a standing ovation as he walked off having allowed five hits and a walk over 7.2 shutout innings, striking out 12.

Schneider said reaching the milestone “means you’re durable, it means you are efficient, and it means your stuff holds. With the way the game is now and how good bullpens are, it speaks volumes to that accomplishment for Chris, how he continues to make pitches. And even before that, I think just the way he pitched tonight on a night we needed him to do that, it’s just kind of who he is.”

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The Blue Jays now head into the final weekend with a chance to clinch as early as Friday night, when Yusei Kikuchi will start on regular rest in the opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, pushing Hyun Jin Ryu back to Saturday, Bassitt having helped get his team there.

“The benchmark for the elite pitchers is 200 innings,” he said. “I get throwing 160, I’ve done it, I get throwing 180, I’ve done it. But to get 200 innings, you have to have so many people to trust you. You have to have so much work behind the scenes that people don’t see. It’s been my only goal forever. So to have this organization believe in me like they do, it means the world to me.”

He’s rewarded that faith with 200 innings, and so much more.

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