Blue Jays manager Schneider talks Kirk’s injury, Manoah’s workload and more

Interim manager John Schneider walks out of the Toronto Blue Jays dugout, before interleague MLB action against the Philadelphia Phillies in Toronto on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (Christopher Katsarov/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Coming off an 11-game stretch in 10 days, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider is happy with the team’s progress after going 7-4 with some big series wins over the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles.

With 15 games left in the regular season, including critical series against the Rays and New York Yankees, the final stretch is coming fast and furious for Toronto.

Schneider joined Sportsnet Fan 590’s Blair and Barker to discuss the team’s recent play, individual performances and some injury updates.

Schneider expects Kirk to return vs. Phillies, no timeline for Gurriel Jr.

Alejandro Kirk has missed the last five games with a left hip injury but could come into the game off the bench if needed. When it comes to getting back behind the plate against the Philadelphia Phillies, Schneider admits the injury impacts what he can do.

“He’ll get tired a little bit more quickly, but he’ll be in (the lineup) tomorrow in some capacity whether it’s DH or catching.”

What was important for Schneider was to have Danny Jansen at catcher with Alek Manoah, who normally works with Alejandro Kirk behind the plate.

“I think going forward there’s going to be times where the experience of doing something new is important. So you don’t do it for the first time in games that are really really magnified, whether it be regular season or post-season,” Schneider said about Jansen and Manoah getting used to working together.

“It was good for everyone I think, and it was good for Jansen to play those three games in a row. He’s swinging the bat really well too, so I think yeah minus the outcome of the game that there was nothing but good that came out of it.”

For Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Schneider didn’t have a firm update for when to expect him back in the lineup.

The outfielder was placed on the 10-day injured list back on Sept. 9 with a left hamstring strain, and at the time the team expected Gurriel to need more than the 10 days to return.

“He’s doing a lot better every day,” Schneider said. “We’ll see how the next couple of days are when we’re in Philly and hopefully, we’ll get a much better grasp on whether we can speed it up for the next series or two.”

The 28-year-old from Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, has five homers and 52 RBI this season with a .291/.343/.400 slash line.

How the team plans to manage Manoah’s workload

In his second season, Alek Manoah is approaching the 200-inning mark which would be the first time a Blue Jays starter has done so since Marcus Stroman did it in 2017.

When it comes to his usage, Schneider believes his ability to adjust to different situations provides the team flexibility, but they intend on being deliberate with their approach with the number of innings he throws.

“He’s definitely shown us he can adjust whether he’s on normal rest, I think in a perfect world you give him and you give everyone a little bit of extra rest if you can,” Schneider explained.

“Then we can use them as needed down the stretch. So we’re going to be deliberate with everything in terms of how he’s feeling when he’s scheduled to throw, what’s going on around the league, all that kind of stuff. If we can get him some extra rest we definitely will.”

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Hernandez’s struggles at the plate during the month of September

With Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. turning things around at the plate in September, Teoscar Hernandez continues to see a dip in production, hitting just .196/.237/.321 with one home run and four RBI in 14 games.

It is similar to the struggles he had back in May when he slashed .151/.195/.233 while hitting a home run and driving in eight RBI in 19 games. Schneider is hoping that a change of scenery with the team heading back on the road might be able to spark something with Hernandez.

“His last handful of at-bats have been better.” Schneider explained. “I think when it comes to adjusments, maybe it’s just shrink the strike zone a little bit and do what he’s really good at which is driving the ball to right-centre field.”

With Hernandez’s struggles at the plate and on defence, a player like Raimel Tapia has seen more time in the lineup and that could continue down the stretch.

“I think we’re always conscious of matchups and numbers and we’re obviously at the point in the year where performance plays a big role in who’s doing what,” Schneider said.

“You don’t want to say that we’re gonna just change exactly what we’re doing. Teo is one of our dudes, we trust him and we know that he can change the leverage of a game with one swing very quickly. I wouldn’t expect anything drastically different to happen. And when he gets going, he makes it that much better.”

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What’s led to Berrios’ improvement on the mound?

Jose Berrios has had a roller-coaster season filled with inconsistency as the team tries to sort through how its post-season rotation could play out.

After a rough month of August, Berrios appears to have turned the corner in September going 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA over three starts.

What has led to his improvement? Schneider point to a couple of factors.

“Better fastball execution. I think even his last outing he wasn’t landing his curveball nearly as much as he wanted it, but fastball execution on location, when to throw his two-seamer and when to throw his four,” Schneider said.

“The changeup has been a great pitch for him lately to both righties and lefties. He’s a veteran dude that’s been there done that, and I think he’s kind of clicking at the right time and being comfortable with some of the adjustments he’s made with Pete and kind of just, you know, being a competent version of himself right now, which is awesome for us.”

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