Blue Jays’ Bassitt deftly manoeuvres through powerful Yankees lineup

Alejandro Kirk went 2-for-3, hitting an RBI double and coming into score on a wild pitch and Chris Bassitt allowed one run over 6.1 solid innings of work as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the New York Yankees 3-1.

TORONTO – The top of the New York Yankees lineup is quite the gauntlet to navigate, a path fully weaponized by the addition of Juan Soto. Placing his daunting combination of power and plate discipline in the two-hole and combining him with Anthony Rizzo to sandwich Aaron Judge with left-handed impact means there are never easy choices for opposing pitchers. Anthony Volpe’s emergence as a well-rounded leadoff threat has more than adequately filled in for the injured DJ LeMahieu’s lost table-setting, while Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres are threats to be managed in the bottom half of the order.

“I love the continuity of our lineup right now and our offence right now in that group of position players,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “I went into spring training kind of envisioning DJ in that one spot. I knew I wanted Judge/Soto two/three in one kind of order with the righty at the top … right, left, right, left – when a lefty is starting slide G in that four-hole and Rizzo back to five –just wanting that different look time after time. It’s not something we’ve had a lot of over the last few years.”

There’s a lot to work through, then, which is what made the 6.1 innings of one-run ball Chris Bassitt threw at them Monday night in a 3-1 Toronto Blue Jays victory so impressive.

Bassitt deftly manoeuvred through their lineup by primarily using his sinker (30) and cutter (20), although he mixed in six other offerings among the 97 pitches he threw. The only damage against him came in the second when consecutive singles by Gleyber Torres, Alex Verdugo and Oswaldo Cabrera brought home the game’s first run and he smothered them from there before a crowd of 30,962 that stood and cheered once he was done.

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“I would say the biggest (sequence) to help was the second inning,” said Bassitt. “I went one through nine in the batting order, I covered everyone and kind of changed some game-plans up after that. That really helped. They have a new hitting coach (James Rowson), so it’s a new game-plan for them, what they’re doing to me, so I was able to kind of see individually each person what they were trying to do. … Me and Pete (Walker, the pitching coach) do a really good job … in meetings during games to figure out what each hitter’s trying to do and then go from there.”

The adjustments paid off during two other crucial sequences. 

One came in the third, after the Blue Jays scratched out a pair of runs against Luis Gil on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch, when Volpe opened the inning with a base hit. Soto followed with a drive to centre snared by Kevin Kiermaier, and after a Volpe stolen base, Judge grounded out to third and Rizzo lined out to second.

Bassitt then erased a leadoff walk to Soto in the sixth by striking out Judge before inducing an inning-ending double play from Rizzo, containing the heart of the lineup three times. 

“He just made big pitch after big pitch,” said manager John Schneider. “Just kind of what he does.”

In doing so, Bassitt made the rest of the order do the heavy lifting, something they couldn’t manage, in an ideal approach to one of the game’s deepest offences.

“Whenever you’re facing the guys in the middle of that order, you don’t want guys on base. They can flip the script pretty quickly,” said Schneider. “It’s really trying to focus on those outs that are attainable, not that every out isn’t attainable, but it’s a diverse, tough stretch there at the top, so you want to try to get them with no traffic.”

Bassitt for the most part did precisely that, allowing four hits and two walks with five strikeouts, Torres among them for the first out of the seventh, before handing the reins to Tim Mayza, who got Verdugo and Cabrera to end the frame. 

Chad Green followed with a clean eighth and Yimi Garcia handled the ninth for his second save, the duo stepping up to handle late leverage spots in the absence of Jordan Romano and set-up man Erik Swanson. 

Both are on the cusp of returning, with Schneider saying after the game that “it looks good for tomorrow.”

The dominant pitching was necessary with runs again hard to come by against Gil, the electric-armed righty who is uncomfortably all over the place. After the two-run second – the only Blue Jays hit that inning was Cavan Biggio’s leadoff double – Alejandro Kirk’s RBI double in the third capped the scoring.

Kirk’s double was his first extra-base hit of the season, capping a stretch in which he started 14 of the Blue Jays’ 17 games thus far, with his 121 innings logged behind the plate fifth in the majors. He handled a similarly dense workload last September in Danny Jansen’s absence, applying the lessons then to his time now.

“Being focused. Being ready,” he said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “I do everything that I can to help the team, knowing that if I have to catch every day it takes a lot of extra work to be ready. That’s what I’ve been doing all this time.”

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Jansen will catch Tuesday when Yusei Kikuchi starts and Schneider said their workload split will be similar to that of years past.

That should help keep him at his best, even as Kirk’s bat has shown signs of coming around after a slow start. His two hits Monday pushed his batting average up to .200 while the double moved his slugging percentage up to .220 to go with an on-base percentage of .293.

“I think Kirky’s happy Jano’s back, too,” said Bassitt. “I understand the offence was struggling, so to speak, but to play as many games as he did to start, it’s really tough for a catcher. Catchers don’t usually plan for that in spring training. I know he’s been wearing it. I know he will never say what he feels, that’s just Kirky, but I’m sure he’s tired.”

He made it work, just the way Bassitt and the bullpen made it work on the mound, keeping a monster offence at bay and making three runs from the Blue Jays lineup hold up.

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