DETROIT – Rarely do games go quite so smoothly – especially for a Toronto Blue Jays team that’s already played 22 one-run games.
And to be fair, this wasn’t exactly the way manager Charlie Montoyo would have scripted it. A 26-minute rain delay interrupted Jose Berrios midway through the third inning, and the Tigers did score one late run. But realistically, it would be hard to ask for much more than a 10-1 win in which the Blue Jays hit three home runs and Berrios was dominant for the second consecutive time.
No injuries or stressful moments, just a lopsided win for a team that’s now 34-23.
“We’re in a good spot,” center fielder George Springer said. “That’s a fantastic outing for him and a good day for us as a whole.”
“It’s a feeling,” he continued. “It’s an expectation, it’s an understanding of a lot of different things. At the same time, everybody in that clubhouse understands what’s at stake and what the ultimate goal is.”
Last weekend, Berrios bounced back from some recent struggles with a 13-strikeout game in which he generated 19 swinging strikes. He was equally effective this time, albeit with a little less swing and miss (five strikeouts, seven swinging strikes) in the course of his 102 pitches.
“The last outing I went back to the old Jose Berrios as a sinker guy and a slider guy,” Berrios said. “I’ve been executing well with quality sinkers and quality sliders and that’s why I’ve been able to (succeed).”
Big picture, it’s reassuring for the Blue Jays to see Berrios return to form given the six years and $120 million remaining on his contract after this year. Medium-term, he looks like someone who could start a playoff game. And even more immediately, he saved the bullpen by pitching eight innings of one-run baseball before Jeremy Beasley closed it out. Considering the Blue Jays bullpen had to cover 7.1 innings two days ago in Kansas City, his start was well-timed.
“He gave us eight big ones to save our bullpen,” Montoyo said. “He was lights-out the whole game … His last two outings, he’s been fun to watch.”
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Springer and Bo Bichette all homered in a four-batter span during the second inning, and the game was immediately out of reach for the Tigers. At that point, the only real threat was rain, but showers subsided quickly, giving way to a rainbow over center field, and the rout continued.
Springer had three hits and a walk before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning while a triple away from the cycle (he said he understood the decision: “it’s not a big deal”). Bichette and Gurriel Jr. added two hits apiece as did Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Santiago Espinal and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – Alejandro Kirk.
By night’s end the Blue Jays had combined for 15 hits and put up a double digit run total for the third time in the last two weeks. Offensively, this is as good as they’ve looked all season, and that’s before we even get to Gabriel Moreno, their top catching prospect who joined the team at Comerica Park in anticipation of being activated Saturday.
The 22-year-old brings elite hand-eye coordination and gap-to-gap power that helped him hit .324/.380/.404 through 36 games at triple-A this year.
“We feel like he’s ready to come up and contribute,” assistant GM Andrew Tinnish said before Friday’s game. “Obviously Kirk’s not catching every day, right? There’s not too many catchers who are back there for 120 games. That’s pretty rare these days Which has obviously helped him develop into the offensive player that he’s become.”
Moreno figures to catch at least two or three times a week while Danny Jansen recovers from a fractured finger and the Blue Jays believe he’s ready for the challenges of handling a big-league pitching staff. He also threw out 15 of 28 would-be base stealers at triple-A, a reflection of his arm strength.
As Tinnish said: “An athletic defender who moves well and really throws.”
Meanwhile, a key reliever is on track to return to the Blue Jays’ bullpen soon. Tim Mayza joined the club’s taxi squad in Detroit and will likely be activated later in the weekend, at which point he’ll provide Montoyo with another reliable late-inning option.
The status of Hyun-Jin Ryu is less clear, as the left-hander continues considering different treatment options after Dr. Neal ElAttrache evaluated his injured elbow. Whatever decision Ryu and the Blue Jays make, he appears likely to miss extended time with Ross Stripling taking over his rotation spot once again and no clear sixth option behind that.
To be fair, though, most teams have questions toward the back of their rotations. After Friday, the Blue Jays have lots to like about the way their opening day starter is recovering from his early-season struggles.
“There’s a track record,” Montoyo said. “That’s who he is. He’s that good.”