Jose Berrios’ plan returns him to dominance as Blue Jays beat Twins

TORONTO — Between starts, Jose Berrios’ process includes watching a video of his previous outing, diagnosing trouble spots, reviewing solutions, then consulting with pitching coach Pete Walker and others Toronto Blue Jays staff.

“Four eyes are better than two,” the right-hander explained. “We come to the same page, then we create a plan and try to execute it.”

After his last outing in Anaheim, when he allowed six runs in 2.1 innings and his fastball speed was down about 2½ mph, Berrios needed a plan. Before hitting a career-best 13 in seven dominant innings in the Minnesota Twins’ 12-3 loss on Saturday, he and the Blue Jays found one good enough to tackle both the dead arm that held him back. tormented last time out, and the unsettling amount of hard contact he’s given up this season.

“I threw a lot of fastballs but not quality fastballs and it caused a lot of damage,” he said before his release. “It’s one of the things I’ve been working on.”

One of, and far from the only, everyone collectively contributing to his impressive rebound against the team that traded him last summer.

First and foremost Berrios’ bike was back, then some as he averaged 94.3 mph, up one tick from his baseline, and peaked at 95, 8, easing concerns that last week’s drop was health-related. To counter what he said was “one of those days when you don’t have power in your arm”, his throwing schedule was adjusted, training reduced and nutrition changed, leading to a strong midweek bullpen “that was a good sign.”

Then Berrios and the Blue Jays looked to make better use of his repertoire, which the Angels’ outing aside, charted better than played.

“We think we can do a better job of putting ourselves in a better position to finish hitters,” Walker said. “Obviously he sets the fastball, locates the fastball and digs it with his breakup ball better than he does.”

This table of his 2022 exit points offers a good starting point:

Blue – Curveball; Green – Change; Orange – Lead; Red – Four-seam Fastball. (Credit: Baseball Savant)

Notice that his curveball and change are clustered further down the cluster, while his fastballs are higher up. To better unify the release point, they made a slight tweak to the pitching rubber and tweaked how Alejandro Kirk set up behind the plate.

Against the Twins, the tunnel was much tighter.

(Graphic credit: Baseball Savant)

Next is a better location with its radiators, avoiding the glove side of the plate in the middle with its four seams and in the middle with its lead, the main hot spots for both pitches. In turn, each offer forced the Twins hitters on their heels, making his curveball, in particular, and his changeover even more effective.

Of his 13 strikeouts, six came on curveballs, five on sinkers and one each on the four-seam and change. He got 19 puffs, two shy of his career best.

“When you work those two throws, it gives the slider and change even more opportunities to swing and miss,” Kirk said through performer Hector Lebron. “He made some really, really good adjustments for today.”

Putting away the batters had been a problem for Berrios this season, as opponents ended up batting .273/.310/.382 in 58 plate appearances after he took a 0-2 lead heading into Saturday, and .244 /.306/. 356 in 49 plate appearances after leading 1-2.

What matters, according to Walker, “isn’t just getting into those counts, it’s how you get there and what you use in those counts.”

“Just because you’re 0-2, 1-2 doesn’t mean you’re going to finish somebody off with your nasty breaking ball if you don’t do it the right way, if you don’t get your spear ready in the common sense,” he continued. “So we’re working on better sequencing his throws, ordering his fastball and getting to the right spots better, to better tunnel his breaking ball.”

All of those elements came together on Saturday and even the only damage against Berrios, Jorge Polanco’s two-run homer in the first, came on a four-outside-edge seam fastball that a lesser hitter could very well have knocked down.

After Nick Gordon’s first double in the second, he didn’t allow another base hit, walking only two and hitting one in his final five frames.

“I think my strength is diving and then sliding down and down,” Berrios said. “We created a plan, we worked on it, I executed it well, so we got some really good results today.”

The Blue Jays quickly made up that deficit on a solo shot from Bo Bichette in the first with a double from Cavan Biggio RBI, a field single from George Springer RBI and a scoring error from shortstop Jermain Palacios in the second.

Kirk continued to smash with a two-run homer in the third, while another two-run drive from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the fourth really opened things up in front of a crowd of 36,987 and under skies of immaculate afternoon. A sacrificial fly by George Springer in the seventh plus a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and a Biggio RBI single in the eighth capped the scoring.

The victory was the ninth in 10 games for the Blue Jays after their eight-game winning streak ended on Friday, and 13e in the last 17 outings in total. More importantly, Berrios and the Blue Jays’ plan worked, and he looked more like himself than at any other time this season.

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