Berríos improves again as the Jays win their first series in the month of May
On José Berríos, a hilarious "triple," Adam Cimber, Vlad Jr., John Lott, Alek Manoah, Juan Soto, robot umps, Ben Nicholson-Smith joining us on this week's Blue Jays Happy Hour, and more!
José Berríos caught a ceremonial first pitch from his mom on Monday night, then went out on Tuesday and showed her how it’s done! The Jays had a tough time on offence again, but got a big hit when they needed it, while Berríos and the bullpen did the rest — assuring the club of its first series win since hosting the Astros late last month. They’ll go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
So let’s talk about it! Here’s three up!
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Up: José Berríos
José Berríos had a good night on Tuesday, giving the Jays seven-plus shutout innings against the Mariners, while allowing just six hits and two walks. He did enough to carry the Blue Jays' bizarrely inept offence to another badly needed victory, which is why he gets an "up" here.
In particular, he had success against the four left-handed batters in the Seattle lineup, continuing a trend that has been getting better and better since his disastrous first start of the season.
He did this primarily with his curveball, which he threw 21 times to lefties, with only one of them ending up in play — an out by Adam Frazier that came off the bat at just 62.2 mph.
The 21 curves to lefties represented 41% of the pitches he threw to them, which is his highest mark of the season. Looking at the location of those pitches as compared to where he's been locating the curve to lefties all season, it's not difficult to see why he was more comfortable with it.
Berríos was able to throw the pitch for strikes, picking up nine called strikes, some via the back door, some by burying it in on the hands of left-handed hitters. With this curve working, he was able to keep the M’s lefties off balance, such that only two of them managed base hits all night — one of whom was Abraham Toro, who came in as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth and ended up being Berríos’s final batter of the night.
"I think that's my pitch, my breaking ball, when I have it," Berríos told reporters, including Mitch Bannon of SI, after the game. "I felt good with my breaking ball and also my fastball command."
To right-handers he kept the curve away from the heart of the plate, picking up a couple of called strikes on the outside black, and managed to get a couple batters to chase. Mostly, though, the fact that he was locating the curve seemed to help him fool right-handed hitters with his sinker/two seamer. Of the 15 sinkers he threw to right-handers, nine went for called strikes.
You can, uh, see how it might be difficult for hitters to distinguish between the two pitches.
Getting called strikes is crucial for Berríos right now, and his high totals in this game — 11 on the curve, nine on the sinker, eight on the fastball — at least helped him get into favourable counts. He continued to struggle at generating swing-and-miss, with M's hitters whiffing on just four of his 91 pitches on the night.
Berríos has seen his swinging strike rate plunge from 11.6% in 2020, to 9.9% last year, to just 7.9% this season so far. His called strike rate has gone up to compensate, but that swinging strike rate is far enough below league average (11.2%) that his Called+Swinging strike rate of 27.4% is a hair below average. (From 2019 to 2021, Berríos ranked firmly in the top third among pitchers with at least 100 innings in terms of CSW%).
I noted his dip in strikeouts in my recap of Monday's game, after poking around the data available at Props.cash — player prop research made easy! — and the trend on the following chart isn’t going to look any better the next time he takes the hill.
Still, you’ll take results like this every time out, if you can get them. Especially if Berríos continues to do a better job of limiting hard contact than he had been in earlier starts this year.
The best is yet to come for Berríos this year, I think. But he can feel good about this one.
Up: That “triple”
That one hit — a .370 xBA triple on a ball that came off the bat at just 71.5 mph — would represent all the offence the Jays could muster in this one. We don’t need to talk about that though, frankly. Seattle starter Logan Gilbert is what we all hope (hoped?) Nate Pearson can (could?) be, basically, so there’s no shame in having a tough time with him.
Let's just be happy that the Jays managed to string together three of their six hits on the night (plus the game's lone HBP) in the same inning for once. That's the kind of sequencing they had been missing on the brutal road trip they're just coming off of!
Up: Adam Cimber
The Jays' bullpen has not been the most strikeout-heavy unit in the big leagues this year. Yimi Garcia and David Phelps have not quite been at the top of their games as yet. Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather are in the minor leagues. And the club's two main strikeout pitchers, Tim Mayza and Jordan Romano, have been unavailable for the first two games of this Mariners series.
One guy whose lack of strikeouts isn't a problem is, of course, Adam Cimber. The submariner, who was hilariously acquired last summer from the Marlins, along with Corey Dickerson and cash considerations, for Joe Panik, has struck out just 41 batters in 53 2/3 innings since being acquired by the Jays (6.88 K/9), and this year has just 11 Ks in 16 1/3 innings (6.08 K/9).
He has also been brilliant.
Cimber pitched a perfect ninth inning to close out Tuesday night's game, adding to some absolutely sparking numbers he's compiled since the trade. A 1.84 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 0.91 WHIP, just eight walks in those 53 2/3 innings (1.34 BB/9), an opponents' average of .209, a HR/FB rate of just 6.1%, a barrel rate nearly half the league average.
Balls in play are obviously a scary thing in high leverage situations. It’s better to have a guy out there who can rear back and miss some bats. Nevertheless, Cimber’s presence has been very comforting when things get hairy — you know, apart from a couple rough outings at home to the Yankees and in Cleveland earlier this month, which he seems to have recovered from nicely.
Let’s hope so, because it feels like the Jays are going to need more of this in the very near future. (At least until Garcia starts missing some bats!)
(Worth noting that Phelps did a great job in getting out of the eighth inning in this one, too!)
• The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will be presenting Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the 2021 Tip O’Neill Award at Rogers Centre prior to Wednesday’s game. More importantly, the Hall will also be presenting the Jack Graney Award to the legendary John Lott as well.
John is a writer, a reporter, and a person I have the utmost respect for, and I think his career speaks for itself — though if you’re unfamiliar, the Hall has provided a short biography. He was the first person I reached out to when I was given a budget for freelancers when I was the editor of Blue Jays Nation, and I was proud to later be able to call him a colleague when I joined him at the Athletic.
I am not generally the type to ask a lot of questions, certainly to my detriment, but John has always been open and honest and ready to lend his guidance — and I know there are a ton of other writers out there who will tell you the same.
It will be awesome to see him honoured on the field at Rogers Centre on Wednesday.
• Jays-related content in national US media? Just hook it to my veins! Here’s one of a couple pieces worth passing along: Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic’s lengthy inside story on how the Jays came to draft Alek Manoah.
Just read the whole thing. You love to see it.
• Another one comes from Buster Olney of ESPN, who ponders whether the Washington Nationals will trade superstar first baseman (and left-handed hitter) Juan Soto — and whether the Blue Jays might be a team that could put together the kind of monster package required to land the 23-year-old.
Some of those breakout pitching prospects we’ve been hearing about this spring could certainly be enticing — though with Soto not reaching free agency until the end of 2024, the package going back to the rebuilding Nats would have to be unthinkably large.
Still, I’d do it! Flags fly forever!
• A couple of good local ones here too, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet looks at how George Springer sets the tone for these Blue Jays, and Ethan Diamandas of Yahoo Sports looks at how Bo Bichette’s defence has improved, despite some unflattering metrics.
• Interesting thread here on “robot umpires” (aka the Automated Ball Strike (ABS) system), which last night came to the Pacific Coast League for the first time.
• Lastly, we’ve got our schedule sorted for this week’s episodes of Blue Jays Happy Hour, live on the Callin app. We’ll go Sunday, as usual, following the last out of that day’s Jays-Reds game. For our mid-week show, however, we’re trying something different. First of all, we’ll be doing it on an off-day — Thursday at 1 PM ET. Secondly, Nick is on the COVID-IL at the moment, so I’ll be hosting solo again. However, because it’s an off-day we’ve been able to procure a guest, so I’ll be joined by Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet!
Be sure to download the Callin app and follow Blue Jays Happy Hour in order to listen in on the conversation live — or to take part by jumping in the queue and asking Ben and I some questions!
Talk to you then!
Next up: Wednesday, 7:07 PM ET: Jays vs. Mariners (Kevin Gausman vs. Marco Gonzales), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 590
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