MINNEAPOLIS – Maybe there will be a time that the Blue Jays’ offence can carry this team again. A little breathing room would sure be nice. But with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. scuffling and Kevin Kiermaier and Danny Jansen limited due to injuries, this lineup isn’t exactly at its best.
Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays need to pitch if they’re going to gain ground in the standings and re-insert themselves into playoff position. But thankfully, Jose Berrios is pitching at a high level again following a disappointing 2022 season in which he posted a 5.23 ERA. On Sunday he was at it again, holding the Twins scoreless into the sixth inning on the way to a tense 3-0 win that allowed the Blue Jays to complete a tough road trip with a series win.
“It’s awesome,” said Daulton Varsho, who impacted the game with his legs and glove. “Obviously we haven’t had a series win in a little bit of time and it just shows that we can do it and keeps our confidence up.”
“It’s baseball,” he continued. “You’re going to go to this rough stretch at some point during the year. For us, it was right now. Hopefully, we can get hot here and finish the year really strong. There’s a lot of baseball left.”
Make no mistake, this wasn’t a textbook win. The Blue Jays’ overly aggressive baserunning continued with Matt Chapman making an unnecessary out at third base in the seventh and their only runs came courtesy of an Alejandro Kirk bloop single in the second and an eighth-inning fielding error by centre fielder Willi Castro.
Still, Berrios was able to contain his former team with 5.2 scoreless innings despite issuing a season-high five walks. He struck out five and allowed four hits while throwing 94 pitches opposite Twins starter Bailey Ober.
“It’s just getting back to what he’s been doing his whole career,” manager John Schneider said. “It kind of got away from him last year, but he’s been this type of pitcher for six or seven years. So you just expect that now.”
Zooming out beyond Sunday, Berrios has now allowed three or fewer runs in eight of his last nine starts. His season ERA sits at 3.86, which is pretty much in line with what you’d hope for from a No. 2 or 3 starter. Add in the fact that Berrios reliably takes the ball every five days and he’s an essential part of this rotation.
“I’ve been able to throw the ball where I want to,” Berrios said. “My location has been working so well with my (four-seam) fastball, two-seamer, change-up and breaking ball. When I’ve got that feeling it’s easier to compete.”
Once Berrios exited, the Blue Jays turned to Trevor Richards and Erik Swanson, who each struck out three of the four hitters they faced, before closer Jordan Romano got the final three outs with three more whiffs.
With Kiermaier sidelined due to lower back discomfort, the Blue Jays played Daulton Varsho in centre field and were rewarded with an outfield assist in the fourth inning and a spectacular catch on a Carlos Correa fly ball at the wall in the eighth. After two near-misses on Twins home runs Saturday, the Correa catch was especially notable.
As Varsho said: “It’s a nice feeling because it’s a breath of fresh air for (the pitcher) and really stops the momentum for the other team.”
Yet for Schneider, Varsho’s baserunning may have been just as significant. With two out in the second inning, Varsho took off from first on Kirk’s bloop single and simply never stopped.
“You can’t speak enough about him scoring from first on a bloop single like that,” Schneider said. “Just not taking a play off. Not assuming it’s going to be caught or that he’s just going to get to third. He’s played in every single game the last 17 days and he busts his ass all the time. Little things like that don’t always get recognized, but it’s a huge play for us.”
“As magnified as he was yesterday, I’m thrilled that he gets to be celebrated today.”
As for Kiermaier, he continues getting treatment in the hopes that he’ll be able to return when the Blue Jays host the Brewers next week.
“Unfortunately the best thing for it is time,” the 33-year-old said. “I want to play. I want to be out there. But I want this to be ‘you miss a couple games’ rather than more.”
There are further workload questions around Kirk, who caught for the fifth consecutive day Sunday (his 2022 max was three in a row). But with a two-run single and a strong day for the pitching staff, the results were undeniably there for Kirk
“Really good game defensively for him today,” Schneider said. “We’re going to lean on going a little bit until (Jansen) gets back.”
As a result, the Blue Jays head back home with a 28-26 record and better vibes than they had a few days ago. Following 17 games in 17 days, a hard-earned off day awaits them in Toronto. And after that, there’s still a lot more work left to do.