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Breaking down José Berrios’ Opening Day start against the Rays

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Photo credit:© Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
20 days ago
The talk of Toronto’s final game of 2023 was handed the ball on Opening Day today, as veteran righty Jose Berrios made his fourth Opening Day start of his nine-year career. An injury to Kevin Gausman during Spring Training opened the door for Berrios to start against the Rays earlier today, but there is no doubt that he still earned it after posting a 3.65 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 32 starts last year.
He started his 2024 in a great way, allowing six hits, two runs, one walk, and six strikeouts across six solid innings and earning his first win of the year. This inaugural start was leaps and bounds better than his outing on Opening Day in 2022 when Berrios recorded only one out in a three-hit, four-run, two-walk outing against the Texas Rangers. Some could say that performance was a harbinger of things to come that season for Berrios, who would go on to post the worst numbers of his career that season. Maybe, since the opposite happened today, Berrios’ best season is in the works.
Let’s take a deep dive into Berrios’ outing and how he was so effective.

The First Inning

The first batter that Berrios had to face today was Yandy Díaz, the reigning American League batting average champ. Diaz has never been an easy out for Blue Jays pitching. He had 47 hits in 54 career games against Toronto with an .805 OPS coming into today.
Berrios started Diaz with a pair of fastballs at 95 mph each with one swinging strike and one called strike. After a pair of slurves that were low and away for balls, Berrios threw an 86 mph changeup that was located off the plate inside. Being the talented hitter that he is, Diaz was able to barrel the ball up, hitting a line drive, 107.2 mph home run down the left field line and near the foul pole.
One batter. One home run. 1-0 Rays. Dare we say shades of 2022?

The rebound and a boatload of strikeouts

Berrios deserves a lot of credit for putting that home run behind him and mowing down the next slew of Rays hitters, because that’s exactly what he did. After the Diaz homer, he would retire 15 of the next 17 batters he faced and five of his six strikeouts came between the Diaz homer and the end of the third inning.
Berrios threw four straight high-velocity pitches (three fastballs and one sinker) to his next opponent, Brandon Lowe, alternating between pitches above the zone and at the lower part of the zone. After going low-high-low-high with the first four pitches, he pulled the string on a changeup at the bottom of the zone that sat Lowe down looking. This was a really nice pitch selection after conditioning Lowe to the fastball.
To get a visual, the alternating of pitches is shown below.
His plan against Randy Arozarena was clearly a healthy dose of breaking pitches. Berrios started him with two slurves that fell in the zone, with his first one starting in the middle and catching the outside part of the plate and the second one starting inside and landing in the middle of the zone. He challenged Arozarena with a sinker low and away trying to change the pace, but Arozarena laid off. However, he went back to the slurve with the count at 1-2, and the movement on the putaway pitch encompassed the entire bottom part of the zone, starting inside and landing low and away, to which Arozarena struck out swinging.
He integrated the level alternation in the final at-bat of the 1st inning against Harold Ramirez, going middle-high-middle with two sinkers and a fastball, ultimately getting Ramirez to hit a ground ball out to Berrios himself.
You’ll notice that I’ve mentioned the sinker being thrown quite frequently, and it’s a pitch Berrios became comfortable with throwing to both righties and lefties. He brought out the sinker again with two strikes in a second-inning at-bat versus Richie Palacios, as the pitch had just enough arm-side run to find its way back in the zone (and a nice frame job from Alejandro Kirk) for strike three.
His final strikeout of the day came on a slurve to Jose Siri in the fifth inning. Siri had singled off Berrios earlier in the game, an at-bat that featured nothing but mid-90s pitches. This time, Berrios started Siri out with a slurve and then threw three straight fastballs (two sinkers, one 4-seam). He conditioned him to the sinker again – showing confidence in it since he had already allowed a hit to Siri against it – then threw a slurve out of the zone, generating an awkward whiff for strike three.

Getting out of the 6th-inning jam

Berrios’ final inning of work was not an easy one. Although the Blue Jays led 6-1 entering the bottom of the sixth, no lead is safe on the road, especially at Tropicana Field. Rene Pinto doubled and would score by a Diaz double one batter later. Berrios walked Lowe to put two on with no one out, forcing a mound visit from Pete Walker. Berrios proceeded to get Arozarena to fly out, Ramirez to ground out, and Isaac Paredes to ground out to end the inning, with the latter two outs coming from nice plays by Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Bo Bichette.
During the Paredes at-bat, Berrios once again stuck with the sinker, throwing it twice and inducing the ground ball from it.

The start in total

Berrios’ fastball velocity hovered around 95 mph, a tick higher than his average fastball velocity last season. Even in non-strikeout at-bats, Berrios’ pitches were exceptional. He showed no hesitation in throwing the sinker to righties and lefties, and the slurve had a quick, rapid break to it. He threw the sinker 33 times, generating 10 called strikes and one whiff, while his slurve induced four whiffs and three called strikes. What may be more impressive was his 4-seam fastball, a pitch that generated the most whiffs on the day for Berrios with five.
As I mentioned earlier, this was almost storybook-like for Berrios to pitch as well as he did on Opening Day, much less start it, after how his season ended in Game 2 of last year’s Wild Card series. Toronto’s start to the season is nothing short of a battle, and his ability to go six strong to save high-leverage guys like Yimi Garcia and Genesis Cabrera will only help.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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