Welcome to the latest edition of the Blue Jays’ newsletter. MLB.com reporter Julia Kreuz is filling in for Keegan Matheson today.
TORONTO -- In a lineup stacked with stars, Bo Bichette appreciates how pivotal he can be to the Blue Jays’ ambitious goals. Now, he’s putting to rest any doubts about his ability to meet expectations.
Less than a month after dropping to seventh in Toronto’s batting order, Bichette has regained the status of clutch run-producer. And he didn’t really change anything to get here.
“I know how important I am to this lineup,” Bichette said on Monday from the Blue Jays’ dugout at Rogers Centre, just moments after being announced as the AL Player of the Week. “So, every day I come here and try to do my best.”
Bichette’s performance this season was bound to be scrutinized, especially after the shortstop earned his first career All-Star nod in 2021. His trademark aggressiveness at the plate, though exciting when it’s working, has also made for some ugly whiffs and tough moments. It didn’t help that the errors piled up on the field, either, amounting to minus-4 Outs Above Average and minus-12 Defensive Runs Saved.
Then, September came around, and Bichette has since looked like the absolute best version of himself.
Mental resilience has been at the forefront of his resurgence.
“Everybody has negative thoughts in there,” Bichette said of potential frustrations or shortcomings at the plate. “It’s just about if you can fight it better than others.”
Any demons he may have encountered in this up-and-down season have been duly exorcised. Bichette now has seven home runs and 21 RBIs, going 24-for-47 in 11 games in September. Monday’s game-winning two-run homer over the Rays was just the latest example of that dominant stretch.
“It’s kind of remarkable,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider about Bichette’s run this month. “We’re all shaking our heads. It’s kind of the hitter that he is and that he can be. He’s locked in right now, not missing pitches, taking pitches, [playing confidently]. His plan is great and his execution is better.”
That plan remains what it’s always been: Use the whole field and swing to do damage, which has worked particularly well in two-strike counts for the 24-year-old, when Bichette eliminates his high leg kick in favor of a wider stance at the plate.
When he’s seeing the ball as well as he is right now, that stance helps lower his strikeout rate and put more balls in play. That’s precisely why Schneider has emphasized the team’s desire to have Bichette hit with runners on base.
“With two strikes I’m just competing,” said Bichette. “I’m trusting my ability to get to the fastball, not have to rush for it and give myself a chance on a slider.”
He’s given himself plenty of chances and has capitalized on them more often than not. That’s precisely the version of Bichette the Blue Jays need with 22 games to go.
“Every game from here on out is a really big one,” Bichette said before the Blue Jays’ series opener against the Rays, who hold a half-game lead over Toronto at the top of the Wild Card standings. “We need every win we can get.”
It’s the home stretch, the fatigue is real and the moments aren’t getting any smaller. If anything, though, that has served as fuel for Bichette.
“Yeah, I’m tired, but everybody is,” he said. “This game is a grind, it’s every day, no breaks. But I feel fine. Dealing with what everybody else is dealing with. I’m just going to continue to go out there and compete.”
Who owns the Blue Jays’ hardest-hit home run of the 2022 season?
A.) Teoscar Hernández
B.) Matt Chapman
C.) Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
D.) Bo Bichette
Right-hander Hayden Juenger has been thriving since earning a promotion from Double-A New Hampshire in late July, and a big part of that has been the No. 8 prospect’s permanent move to the bullpen.
Juenger, who started 17 games for the Fisher Cats before his promotion, has settled in nicely as a bulk reliever for the Bisons -- a role the Blue Jays have emphasized time and time again as valuable to the organization.
In 24 relief innings with Buffalo, the 22-year-old has posted a 3.00 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 11 walks, holding opponents to a .198 average.
Double-A New Hampshire
No. 6 prospect Yosver Zulueta remains one of the most interesting pitchers in the Blue Jays’ system. The right-handed flamethrower last pitched on Sep. 10, going two scoreless innings with three strikeouts while allowing two walks and no hits.
The 24-year-old Zulueta was limited to one appearance in August and placed on the Minor League IL with shoulder soreness. Since being activated on Sep. 4, however, he’s allowed just one earned run and two hits.
Should he stay healthy and continue to work on his command, Zulueta will get a legitimate chance to make the big league team in the near future.
No. 9 prospect Gabriel Martínez has continued his good run with the Canadians. He already has three multiple-hit games in September, including a three-hit game on Sep. 3.
The power is still inconsistent -- only two of Martínez’s base hits this month have been for extra bases -- but the ability to make good contact is very enticing for a 22-year-old in just his second full Minor League season.
Manuel Beltre is hitting his way into recognition.
The 2021 international signing and Toronto’s No. 22 prospect has yet to go hitless in a game since joining the Dunedin Blue Jays.
Beltre was assigned to Single-A on Aug. 30, after 49 games in Rookie ball, and the move seems to have done him some good. The 18-year-old has batted .381 with a .980 OPS in five Single-A games. That’s a definite improvement from the .234 average with a .661 OPS in the FCL.
A former No. 1 prospect, Nate Pearson may at last be healthy enough to rejoin the big league team in the near future.
“We’re waiting to see how his next outing or so goes,” said Schneider. “So we’ll know more after he pitches.”
Pearson is scheduled to pitch again on Tuesday, in his second rehab game with the Bisons. His first outing went as well as the Blue Jays could have hoped for. The 26-year-old pitched one inning with one strikeout, no hits and no walks.
His fastball isn’t quite back to triple digits yet, currently sitting at 97 mph and topping off at 98, but that skill set is still something the Blue Jays lack on the Major League level right now, which means Pearson may pitch for Toronto again as early as this season. According to Schneider, that will depend on “performance, health and how he bounces back.”
C.) Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero’s first home run of the season, on April 10 against the Rangers, became the hardest-hit homer by a Blue Jay in the Statcast era. The first baseman’s blast off Spencer Howard had an exit velocity of 117.9 mph.
The 23-year-old Guerrero also owned the previous record, a 117.4 mph mark he shared with former teammate Rowdy Tellez.
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