Blue Jays starter Berrios a student of the game

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Team officials, reporters and camera operators often gather behind the chain-link fence near the gang mounds at the Blue Jays’ player development complex to watch bullpen sessions during spring training.

Right-hander Jose Berrios is usually mixed in among them.

The veteran starter — a real student of the game — uses the opportunity to study his teammates’ techniques during their throwing sessions.

“I’m just trying to know them more and see how they move, see how the pitch is doing” Berrios said Thursday. “That way you can learn.”

The standing area is just a couple feet behind where the catchers crouch down, providing a stellar view of the pitcher’s arm angle and ball movement. Berrios will work his way along the fence to soak up as many sessions as possible.

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“When you see them (throw), they all have different mindsets with little things,” he said. “Seeing their pitches, seeing how they throw it, you can get better too. We always learn from everybody.”

Berrios had a solid 2023 campaign after a down year in ’22. He was 11-12 over 32 starts last season, trimming his earned-run average by over a run and a half to 3.65.

The two-time all-star had 184 strikeouts and earned his first career Gold Glove.

“The way he navigated the season (by) getting back to his normal self — the Jose that we’re accustomed to seeing his whole career — was great,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “In the off-season, I (had) a lot of conversations with him, he wants to even be a better pitcher (and) a little bit more vocal, a little bit more of a leader in the clubhouse, being comfortable here now.

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“He’s about as locked in as I’ve ever seen him since we acquired him.”

Berrios spent parts of six seasons with Minnesota before being dealt to Toronto near the trade deadline in 2021. He signed a US$131-million, seven-year contract extension with the Blue Jays that fall.

Berrios started Game 2 of the American League wild-card series last October against the Twins. In a surprise move, he was pulled after issuing a leadoff walk in the fourth inning even though he was in strong form.

The goal was to play the percentages by forcing the Twins to adjust their lineup. Toronto’s muted offence didn’t co-operate as Minnesota won 2-0 to sweep the best-of-three series.

“I was frustrated for, honestly, like five or six days after losing that last game when I was taken out of the game early,” Berrios said. “But life keeps going … you have to keep your head up and keep moving forward.”

Berrios was charged with one earned run in the hard-luck defeat. He gave up a walk and three hits while striking out five.

“Obviously it was not the best way to end his season last year, we all know about that,” Schneider said. “I think having the conversations with him this off-season and (learning) the steps he wants to take going forward has been encouraging.”

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The core of Toronto’s deep starting rotation is back for 2024 with Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi anchoring a five-man crew that will likely include Alek Manoah.

“None of them rested on last year,” Schneider said. “They wanted to find ways to get better and find ways to continue to go deeper in games and make every start, adding a new pitch, whatever it is.”

Top prospect Ricky Tiedemann has been tabbed to start Saturday’s pre-season opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Tiedemann, Bowden Francis, Mitch White and Yariel Rodriguez are in the mix with Manoah for the final rotation spot.

“I’m excited, we are all healthy, working, and I’ve been seeing everyone get stronger and stronger,” Berrios said. “So it’s going to be an exciting year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.


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