Blue Jays down Brewers for consecutive series wins but doubt still looms over Manoah

Kevin Gausman went six-plus shutout innings, and Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman each provided first-inning homers as the Toronto Blue Jays won their second straight series with a 3-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

TORONTO — Like so many others, Chris Bassitt saw the look on Alek Manoah’s face after he was pulled from his latest start so before he left the dugout, the veteran right-hander stopped his younger teammate to share a few words.

“When you’re struggling, there’s so many voices and stuff that are so negative towards you, and this world itself is so dang negative with social media and all that crap, and so many people think their voice matters,” Bassitt said Thursday morning, before Kevin Gausman threw 6.2 shutout innings in a 3-1 Toronto Blue Jays win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “I just told him, there’s a lot of positives to take away today. I truly thought he looked really good (Wednesday). I thought his changeup was great, I thought his slider was great. There were a lot of positives. So don’t let negative thoughts from other people get in your head.”

A second straight series win secured by Thursday’s victory before a sellout crowd of 42,059 on a picturesque afternoon helped to collectively clear some minds for the Blue Jays, who improved to 30-27 after an 11-17 May that was trying all the way around.

Bo Bichette got the ball rolling with a solo shot off Freddy Peralta in the first, Matt Chapman followed a Daulton Varsho single with a two-run drive later in the inning and Gausman did the rest. With his fastball sitting at 96 m.p.h. and up to 99.3, he was in control from start to finish, striking out 11 while allowing five hits and two walks.

While a tremendous Kevin Kiermaier catch to end the second helped, the only thing to get him was a season-high matching pitch count of 115.

“Everything was a bit harder today,” said Gausman, who became the first pitcher in club history to reach 100 strikeouts in his first 12 starts. “I was pretty loose out there and pretty sweaty, so everything was kind of full go. I threw some splits at 91 so when I’m able to do that, usually my fastball is kind of carrying. Certain instances you saw, we just stuck with fastballs in certain at-bats. Felt good with it. Didn’t necessarily have the best carry but I thought we did a good job of mixing and keeping them off balance.”

While the offence still isn’t fully untracked — a 1-for-13 night with runners in scoring position Wednesday underlining that — the Blue Jays have consecutive series wins for the first time since sweeping the Chicago White Sox and taking two of three from Seattle at the end of April.

Chapman following up a two-double night Wednesday with a homer and a walk Thursday suggests that he’s coming out of a May funk in which he batted .202/.273/.312 for the month. His homer was a laser to right field off Peralta, the kind he’s hitting when he’s locked in at the plate.

“It’s definitely a good sign when you’re driving the ball the other way, especially with two strikes,” said Chapman. “I kind of felt like he was going to try and throw another heater by me there and I was thinking, use the whole field, I wasn’t necessarily thinking go the other way, but just trying to make sure that I was able to stay back if he threw off-speed. So the fact that I was able to get on top of that fastball, 96 on the outside corner, and just drive it the other way is a good sign for sure.”

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Within all that is Manoah’s ongoing effort to find his footing, with concerns ratcheting up after his crestfallen look at being removed after four innings Wednesday and his honest and emotional comments about “not doing what I’m meant to be doing” and his mindset being “stuck in don’t throw a ball here.”

Manager John Schneider said that was the club’s first glimpse “of him saying, yeah, this sucks right now, that he can’t help the team win,” and “I give him credit for being vulnerable about it.”

“It’s tough when you’re out there trying to kind of bottle that up and then still compete at the same time,” Schneider continued. “We’ll continue to have conversations with him and see how we can help him.”

Manoah’s next turn in the rotation comes Monday against the Houston Astros and the noise around him is sure to intensify between now and then. Jose Berrios was in a somewhat similar situation a year ago and said the outreach from teammates and coaches could sometimes be overwhelming, but always a positive if taken the right way.

“If people want to help you it’s because you are a great person and a good player,” he said. “The only thing is to know what we can take that can help us get better. Everyone wants to tell you something to help, but it’s on you to take what can help you and execute it.”

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Bassitt didn’t hit Manoah with a ton of advice.

Rather, the main point he wanted to drive home was “be positive.”

“He obviously wants to go seven, eight innings and dominate, but yesterday was four innings and I thought he did a really good job. Don’t make that into a negative,” said Bassitt. “There’s so much crap that’s just thrown at us from so many different avenues that’s just constantly negative. It’s just toxic. So, hey, just leave with the positive things. The seven, eight innings are going to come. I don’t even think he’s close (to finding his form), I think he’s there. It’s now just a matter of cleaning some things up.”

Taking the long view is easier at 34 with the years of experience Bassitt has than at 25 with the unusual development path forced by the pandemic like Manoah. But Bassitt noted how everyone struggles at different points and added “it’s just a matter of going through it.”

“It’s not fun to go through, but I actually believe it helps you,” he continued. “Six, seven years from now he’s still going to be in the league and he’s going to be doing really, really well and he’s going to be mentoring a guy that’s 24, 25 and struggling. That’s just the way the game is. People forget that. Everyone wants constant success. That’s not the game we play. Someone’s got to win, someone’s got to lose. There’s too much negativity.”

That applies to May as a whole for the Blue Jays, who are looking for a lot more positivity in June.

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