Much-improved Berrios, booming bats propel Blue Jays to win over Orioles

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Teoscar Hernandez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) celebrate Hernandez's two run home run driving in Guerrero Jr. during third inning American League MLB baseball action against the Baltimore Orioles in Toronto on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays have a number of moving parts right now, which is why a trio of trend lines emerging in recent weeks are of particular consequence.

First is the ongoing revival of Jose Berrios, who continued to distance himself from a concern-raising outing in Anaheim with a third consecutive gem in Wednesday’s 7-6, 10-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles, secured on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s first career walk-off hit.

Next is the resurgence Guerrero, Teoscar Hernandez and Matt Chapman are experiencing at the plate, delivering a long-awaited correction that’s bolstering the lineup.

[brightcove videoID=6307873953112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Finally, there’s the relative lack of late-inning leverage the bullpen has faced this month, evidenced by the team not having a save this month, and Yimi Garcia’s three-run hiccup during the eighth inning registering as the club’s first blown save since May 28.

Though separate, the trends are all interconnected, especially amid the uncertainty left by Hyun Jin Ryu’s looming season-ending surgery and Yusei Kikuchi’s recent struggles.

Berrios’ gems — seven innings of two-run ball against Minnesota, eight innings of one-run ball against Detroit and seven frames of three-run dominance against Baltimore — have each come after Kikuchi clunkers, providing the bullpen a critical opportunity to reset each time.

The wider-scale impact of those performances by Berrios can’t be understated, because back-to-back starter blips are immensely taxing on a pitching staff and often lead to draining reliever shuffles to ensure there are enough fresh arms on the roster.

Chapman, who’s been tearing the cover off the ball all season but generally not getting rewarded for it, has rebounded since his batting average dropped to .182 on May 15, hitting .284/.376/.481 in the 23 outings since.

Compounding Kikuchi’s inconsistencies is that Ross Stripling is still building up after returning to the rotation from the bullpen to cover Ryu’s latest absence. All that’s made Berrios’ rebound from that Anaheim start, and a slow beginning to the season more generally, especially timely.

“This is a team. We know we’ve got each other’s backs,” said Berrios. “We lost Ryu for the rest of the year. Kikuchi, he’s been a little bit up and down so far but he’s going to be good at the end of the year. We believe in him. And (Kevin) Gausman, (Alek) Manoah and I are working so hard every day to go out there and pitch as far as we can. The most important thing is to win the game and we are able to help the team to make that happen.”

Now, the pressure shouldn’t be on the pitchers alone and the offence in recent weeks has definitely done more of the heavy lifting, with the remarkable Alejandro Kirk, Santiago Espinal, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and, prior to his injury, Danny Jansen all helping to lengthen the lineup.

Still, a breakout from Guerrero “is something that we’re waiting for,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, and it’s starting to come with last year’s MVP runner-up now at seven homers in June and up to 13 hits over his last six games.

Spurred along by conversations with Hernandez and George Springer before the weekend series in Detroit, Guerrero found that he wasn’t playing with his usual joy, carrying some frustration over the way his season was going.

He made a conscious decision to change that — “I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to be myself. I’m going to enjoy the game the way I do,’” he explained — and his spirit was evident when asked if he expected the Orioles to walk him intentionally to open the 10th.

“I told Kirky just to be ready because I thought I was going to get walked,” Guerrero said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “But when I when I saw that they were going to pitch to me, I said, ‘Well, the game’s over right here.’”

[brightcove videoID=6307941311112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

No cap, as Guerrero ripped a 99.2 m.p.h. fastball at the top of the zone from Felix Bautista to left field to cap a four-hit night that also included a solo shot in the fifth inning.

“It means a lot to me, the first walk-off that I’ve had in the big-leagues,” said Guerrero. “You’ve got to feel really happy with that.”

Hernandez, who’s endured more than his share of struggle in his career, had a pretty good idea of what Guerrero was feeling before the Tigers series, which is why he reached out.

“I told him in Detroit, ‘Look, just forget about the numbers. Don’t see the numbers. Just go out there. Have fun. Do what you know you’re capable of and just enjoy the game and you will see the results. Stay positive going into the at-bat that you’re going to hit a double, homer, whatever it is you want to put in your mind, so you mind is staying in the game and you stay focused on the things that you have to do,’” Hernandez relayed. “And from that day, he started raking again the way he used to.”

Somewhat under the radar the past couple of weeks, Hernandez and Chapman have started raking the way they can, too.

Hernandez, who’s fought to regain his timing since returning from an oblique injury last month, started to find himself during the four-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim and is batting .373/.413/.627 in the two weeks since.

“I feel a lot better,” said Hernandez. “I’ve been seeing the ball better. I’ve been hitting the ball harder. I’ve been getting into more good counts. For me that’s all that matters right now. I’m really getting close to my normal approach. My swing is getting better because I’m hitting the ball everywhere and it’s a good sign that I’m hitting the ball really hard.”

[brightcove videoID=6307906160112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Each added to their recent stretch with a two-run homer in the third inning, opening up a 5-0 lead and seemingly locking up a win against the Orioles. After Baltimore rallied in the eighth, Hernandez opened the bottom half with a single and stole second before he was stranded at third after a sacrifice fly.

The more they all produce, of course, the less burden there will be on the pitchers, whose work through April and much of May steadied the club while the offence got untracked.

Their recent spike at the plate is, in part, why Jordan Romano doesn’t have a save this month and underlining the pressure on the relievers early, his 16 saves remain tied for the American League lead.

Still, there will be times when the bullpen must lock down tight games and Garcia, who in his eight previous outings not only didn’t give up a run but only surrendered one hit, let the Orioles off the hook on an aberration night.

All the damage came with two outs, as Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays hit consecutive doubles before Ryan Mountcastle hit his second home run of the game to tie the game 6-6.

Tim Mayza then came on for the final out of the eighth, Romano was as nasty as ever during a no-nonsense ninth while Adam Cimber set up the victory by putting up a zero in the 10th, striking out Ryan McKenna after a Jorge Mateo sacrifice brought the go-ahead run to third before popping up Mullins to end the frame.

“That was the game for me,” said Montoyo, after some bigger trends on the Blue Jays intersected in their latest victory.

[brightcove videoID=6307810303112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]
[brightcove videoID=6307812053112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.