Bichette believes Blue Jays will be better but ‘we need to go and show everybody’ 

Shi Davidi and Hazel Mae discuss the new off-season work from Toronto Blue Jays' Bo Bichette, including the desire to become more vocal within the team and the variety of workouts to help him offensively.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Amid the introspection inherent to the end of any season, Bo Bichette took more time off than usual from baseball over the winter. There was so much to process, both personally and collectively, plus some strengthening work to be done for his right knee, aimed at preventing recurrences of the injuries that sidelined him for parts of August and September. That meant he never stopped training, even incorporating Pilates, swimming and Muay Thai into his regimen, ensuring that he attacked areas of need “without forgetting about the rest” of the body.

The all-star shortstop also did a lot of thinking, seeking ways to extend his dominant April and May last year over an entire season, minimize down periods and be a consistent presence every day. He became further determined to push his game to yet a higher level in 2024.

“I really was trying to figure out what is really important to me as a player,” Bichette said Wednesday after a full day of training and live batting practice at Toronto Blue Jays camp. “A lot of times things can speed up on you when things go wrong, you start searching for things, you start looking for answers in different spots and this off-season, I just really wanted to iron out what is important to me so that when I do go astray, I can quickly get back on track and take a deep breath and remember those things. I really feel like I did that. I think that should help me a lot. But at the same time, the consistency starts from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed. What kind of sleep am I getting? What am I eating? All that stuff. That’s discipline. That’s the consistency I want to grow.”

That consistency is reflective of an even deeper level of accountability Bichette is applying to himself, and that the Blue Jays say they are seeking to apply collectively in 2024. To a certain degree, everything they’re doing this spring is aimed at not just turning the page on that frustrating 2023 and its irreconcilable ending, but drawing key lessons from the experience, too.

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Bichette, who turns 26 on March 5 and seems intent on using his powerful voice more this year rather than mostly leading by example, praised the Blue Jays’ pitching and defence for “keeping us in it the whole season” a year ago. But he added that the offence “didn’t bring consistency” and needs to “be better in our competitiveness and our preparation and day-to-day focus.”

He likes what he sees from how players arrived in camp, from both “guys that were under the microscope and then guys that weren’t,” the group conversations about “how we move forward” and the way “we have a goal in mind, which I think is super important, and everybody seems optimistic about us making the changes we need to.”

But then he added a caveat that’s so important after the one-game short heartbreak of 2021, the blown 8-1 lead in Game 2 versus the Mariners in 2022, the early-hook-of-Jose Berrios debacle in Game 2 against the Twins last year: “I don’t think we’ve earned the right as a team to just be taken at our word. We need to go and show everybody, so that’s the main focus.”

It’s a significant statement, one that ties into what seems like a perception gap between an objective evaluation of the talent the Blue Jays have and some subjective assessments of the roster. 

That intriguing dynamic isn’t lost on the players, with Bichette conceding that this “is the first time we’re being doubted, for sure.”

“We’ve always had high expectations,” he added. “And it’s definitely a different mindset trying to prove people right than trying to prove people wrong.”

Maybe for some players that turns into a chip-on-the-shoulder motivator, but, as Bichette rightly points out, “you should be trying to prove yourself right, should be trying to become the best player that you can be.”

“Outside (voices) shouldn’t matter, although, I mean, they do,” he continued. “I think we’d all be lying if we said we don’t see any of it or it doesn’t motivate us in any sort of way. But there are guys that have pride in there and want to show what they can do.”

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Accomplishing that hinges on consistency, approach, effective communication of game-planning, attention to detail – all the elements that have been a focal point of discussion around the Blue Jays since that 2-0 setback last Oct. 4.

Manager John Schneider describes the theme around camp as being a focus on “how are we going to win,” and pivotal is being “accountable to what we say we’re going to be and how we’re going to do it and how we’re going to prepare and how we’re going to compete.”

“It’s just doing what we say we’re going to do. And doing it when things are good and doing it when things are bad,” Schneider added later. “This game is really hard and last year, the year before, the year before, a lot of guys have been here and you learn from it. So it really just comes down to, OK, spring training you’re setting the tone and it’s really easy to say a lot of good things in spring training when you haven’t really started. It’s really sticking to those basic principles you talk about on how you’re going to get prepared every single day.”

All of which is easier said than done, which is why the Blue Jays are in this spot now, once again trying to make their whole equal to, if not greater than the sum of their parts.

And, as Schneider put it, “it’s not an overnight fix. It’s not just a magic pill that you take and you say, OK, we’re going to be more attentive. It’s just kind of doing it day-in and day-out and trying to get a little bit better.”

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The Blue Jays know the price of deviating from such a mindset and Bichette, like his teammates, wants a different ending this time. 

Last season, he batted .306/.339/.475 in 135 games and was worth 4.9 wins, as calculated by Baseball Reference, yet he was bothered by a down June, when he hit .278/.291/.444, and a .254/.292/.402 run in 29 games around two stints on the injured list, first for right knee patellar tendonitis, later with a right quad strain.

Bichette is counting on his off-season training to take care of the leg, while his introspection and focus on what matters to him in the batter’s box should help alleviate the former.

“I’ve always understood what I feel when I’m hitting,” he said. “Sometimes feelings are tough to find throughout a season when things are going wrong. It’s like I really understand what I’m feeling, what I’m doing when I feel – and not to get too deep into it – but just staying through the ball and having rhythm. Simple.”

The Blue Jays will try to keep things that way, doing what they say, actions matching words.

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