Berrios, Belt come up big as Blue Jays complete series victory vs. Astros

Jose Berrios had another quality outing with two runs allowed over six innings of work and Alejandro Kirk slapped an RBI double as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Houston Astros 3-2 to claim their fourth straight series win.

TORONTO – Thursday marked exactly two weeks since Toronto Blue Jays’ players called a team meeting following a loss to the Rays in Tampa Bay. It was in the wake of a dismal stretch that saw the club drop nine of 11 games and the vibes around the team were objectively bad.

When people say the baseball season is long, though, there’s a reason for that. Just look at the vibes around the club at the moment.

The Blue Jays are experiencing an enjoyable point of their season-long roller-coaster, adding to the ride with Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre.

The victory, helped by a strong outing from starter Jose Berrios and clutch hits from Alejandro Kirk and Brandon Belt, allowed the Blue Jays to take three of four in the set against the defending World Champions while also capturing the season series, which could prove meaningful in tie-breaker scenarios this October.

Since the team meeting on May 25 — after which Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman said, “We’re all grown men here. It’s up to us. We’re the ones on the field” — the club has gone 10-3. Two of those losses were charged to Alek Manoah, whose increasing struggles ultimately landed him in the Florida Complex League this week.

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“I think it’s just understanding where we are in the season,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said following Thursday’s contest. “The number of games that we’d played in the season was really young at the time that they did get together and talk through some things. [They showed] a little bit of a heightened sense of awareness of what makes us go from ‘good’ to ‘great’ and from ‘scuffling’ to ‘good.’

“It’s been nice to watch them come together.”

On Thursday, Berrios continued his dominant string of starts with six solid innings. The only damage against him came in the second frame when Alex Bregman led off by depositing an 0-1 slurve into the left-field stands. Berrios walked Kyle Tucker the next at-bat and the Astros strung together two hits to load the bases. Berrios then induced a double play from Jake Meyers that allowed a run to score and ended the frame by getting Martin Maldonado to ground out. 

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In total, the Blue Jays right-hander surrendered just the two runs on four hits over six innings, before Yimi Garcia and Erik Swanson each pitched scoreless frames and Jordan Romano earned his 17th save of the season.

Berrios walked two, struck out two, tossed 89 pitches and relied on his defence, which again helped him out with a nifty inning-ending double play in the third.

“Having a night like tonight, I didn’t have a lot of swings and strikeouts, but we still had a lot of ground balls and got the hitters out,” Berrios said. “We still had that confidence to keep pushing, to keep competing.”

The right-hander is enjoying one of the best stretches of his career, as he’s posted a 2.52 ERA over his last 11 starts and 67.2 innings.

“He’s in a good spot right now,” said Schneider.

Blue Jays hitters were mostly stifled for the first four innings by Astros left-hander Framber Valdez, who entered the day fourth in the majors with a 2.16 ERA.

The lineup finally broke through though in the fifth, however, when Daulton Varsho and George Springer led off with consecutive walks. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. later reached via the free pass as well, loading the bases for Chapman, who grounded the ball back to Valdez and reached on a fielder’s choice that plated one run.

Kirk followed that up with a run-scoring, ground-rule double to tie the game at 2, then Belt singled to right field to drive in Chapman for the go-ahead run. Kirk was gunned out sliding into home, but the key damage was done by the Blue Jays’ three-spot in the inning.

“He’s one of the best in the league,” said Schneider of Valdez. “His stuff is as advertised — can really spin it; good heater; just in control. I thought it was great that when we had a chance, we took it. It’s big at-bats from [Kirk], [Chapman] getting down the line to get the run in, taking your walks, things like that.

“That’s like a put-on-your-hard-hat-and-go-to-work day against a guy like that,” he continued. “And you got to take advantage of spots when he does allow some traffic. You take what you can get, really, off a guy like that.”

Belt’s contribution against Valdez was significant there — the left-handed hitter entered the game having faced a southpaw just 11 times on the season and had recorded only one hit against them.

Kirk, meanwhile, has stepped into the role of No. 1 catcher with Danny Jansen on the injured list with a groin issue. On that front, there’s good news as Jansen is set to head to triple-A Buffalo on a rehab assignment this weekend, with hopes that he’ll return in time for Tuesday’s opener of a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles.

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However, Kirk has more than carried his load of late, hitting .341 (14-for-41) over his past 13 games on the heels of a rough patch in early May.

“I’m just trying to work on the adjustment of trying to put the ball in the air,” Kirk said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “Come in earlier, work on that. In BP, try to put the ball in the air. We know that on the ground, there’s not much there. So, just for now, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Just like Kirk was able to change his fortunes, so too have the Blue Jays as a whole. It just goes to show what a difference two weeks can make in baseball.

“When you’re going through a tough time, I think from the outside looking in, it’s tough to be patient and stay the course,” said Schneider. “It’s a credit to the guys for doing just that.”

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NOTES: Blue Jays centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who was hit in the left wrist by a 95-m.p.h. sinker from Valdez in the second inning, was lifted from the game in the fourth. He underwent precautionary X-rays for what the team called a left wrist contusion and it came back negative for a fracture.

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