Three Key Things: Blue Jays get excellent pitching after Kevin Gausman’s rough start, as Yariel Rodriguez, José Berríos, and Yimi Garcia shine

Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
14 days ago
Returning home to the Rogers Centre has been one of the cures to the early season blues for the Blue Jays, as the team has now won back-to-back series for the first time this season. A Sunday afternoon win that featured the Blue Jays scoring four runs with two outs put the finishing touches on a series win against one of the league’s worst teams in the Colorado Rockies this weekend. Here are the Three Key Things I took from the home tilt.

What’s up with Kevin Gausman?

Two things can be true. A series win is great, and Friday night was embarrassing.
Colorado pounded the Blue Jays with a season-high 20 hits and 12 runs in a 12-4 rout of the Jays. After trailing 2-1 entering the third inning, the Rockies scored 11 consecutive runs and weren’t answered until the Blue Jays picked up a pair of runs in the 9th inning. We can dive into all that went wrong individually, but that would take an article of its own. One of the more concerning events, however, was that Kevin Gausman recorded his second consecutive poor start.
Having consecutive subpar outings is not something that Gausman has been accustomed to since joining the Blue Jays in 2022. Last weekend, the weather played a significant role in his ability (or inability) to develop any rhythm and/or velocity with his pitches. While the velocity picked back up this time around, he still posted a sluggish stat line of 10 hits, 6 runs, no walks, and four strikeouts through 3.2 innings on Friday.
It wasn’t all negative for Gausman; he pieced together a really nice three-up-three-down first inning and he generated a total of 18 whiffs between his three main pitches. However, as he pointed out in his postgame media availability, the Rockies put together some really nice at-bats against him. In fact, seven of the eight balls they hit over 98 mph were singles or doubles.
We can’t forget that Gausman’s a vet who’s been through his ups and downs and knows how to rebound from them. He also made only one Spring Training start, and this is only his fourth outing since coming back from a shoulder injury. There seem to be no rumblings about any potential injury, and I’d like to think the Blue Jays have enough depth to encourage some more rehab if it is needed. At the end of the day, it could just be chalked up to a rough month/string of games or simply building back up to full strength, and that’s all the Blue Jays are hoping it is going forward. He’ll be thrown back in the wringer on Wednesday night against the Yankees.

The newcomers were effective

I’m obviously going to start this section out with 27-year-old rookie Yariel Rodriguez, who made his major league debut on Saturday afternoon. Rodriguez, who became the first Cuban-born pitcher to start a game in Blue Jays history, appears to still be getting built up as a starter as he threw only 68 pitches through 3.2 innings. In those frames, though, he looked really, really good.
Rodriguez allowed four hits, two walks, one earned run, and six strikeouts before being pulled from the game. He generated twelve whiffs altogether, with seven of those coming against his disgusting slider. The slider had great depth to it, seemingly falling out of the air on command. While he did hang a few of them (and got punished for it once by Brenton Doyle), he showed no bashfulness, throwing it effectively at the top and bottom of the zone. Combine that with his fastball that averaged at 95 mph and maxed out at 98 mph, a couple of different pitch deliveries/angles, and some fire and hora of dominance on the mound, Y-Rod’s debut was extremely encouraging. He bounced off the mound after a strikeout, spitting a mouthful of water out of his mouth before taking the mound for the first time – that was a guy who was visibly ready for the moment.
The acquisition of Justin Turner is looking better and better by the series, and the 39-year-old righty had another highly productive series against the Rockies. He only played in two games in the series, but Turner posted a 4-for-6 stat line with 3 RBIs, a walk, and a double. Turner leads the team in doubles and is now tied for the team lead in RBIs. His slash line has reached an impressive .386/.481/.614, and that 1.095 slugging percentage is certainly a sight for sore offensive eyes.
That leaves us with Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who had a hit in all three games, including his first home run as a member of the Blue Jays on Friday night. This weekend brought IKF’s slash line to .295/.354/.432, and I think if that’s what you’re going to get from him this season, then any Blue Jays fan would take that, considering those would be career-highs for him in all categories.
Kiner-Falefa’s signing was scrutinized by many; it was understandable to question the fit with the Jays given that they already had a surplus of utility players and a power bat(s) was a glaring need, and it was also understandable to question the contract if one played the comparison game with other utility players. But it isn’t like Toronto is getting Anthony Rendon’ed with this contract, and let’s also not act like two years at $15 million is breaking the bank either. IKF’s playing well, and if he can help this team offensively, it should be welcomed with open arms.

Lineup decisions are being criticized now more than ever

I’d like to check the stats on which tweets from the Blue Jays Twitter account receive the most replies. I’d bet that the daily lineup posting may be it.
From Turner sitting on Saturday after a Thursday off day to Davis Schneider not starting on Friday to Daulton Varsho sitting on Sunday after hitting a home run in two straight games, the questions were aplenty.
I’ll start with this: Davis Schneider should be playing every day. He came off the bench on Friday night and, albeit in a blowout, instantly provided offence and slapped a double to right field. He earned a start on Saturday and went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and an RBI. Despite going 0-for-4 on Sunday, he is slashing .241/.333/.517 with an .850 OPS and two homers, and he’s tied for the team lead in RBIs. The Blue Jays are 6-0 when he starts, and if that sample size continues to grow and trend in that direction, there will be more of a correlation. It shouldn’t be a coincidence that he’s also 2-for-4 with an RBI as a substitute this year. This guy is a primary source of offence for this team, and he should start until he proves the above stats otherwise.
All six of Schneider’s starts have been in left field this season, so naturally he’s taking away playing time from Varsho. Yes, you could slide Varsho to centre field, but then you’d be taking away at-bats from Kevin Kiermaier. Both Varsho and Kiermaier have gotten off to subpar starts this season; the former is batting .196 with a .608 OPS, while the latter is hitting .154 with a .393 OPS.
Varsho hit his first two home runs of the season this weekend, including a grand slam that proved to be the game-winner on Saturday. Personally, I thought he should’ve been in the lineup on Sunday afternoon no matter who the starting pitcher was, especially after his bat was waking up to begin the series.
The idea of optics may be involved in this situation. The Blue Jays will be paying Kiermaier $10.5 million this season, and they didn’t do it for him to sit on the bench. Toronto also traded Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno to Arizona for Varsho, so they have to play him regularly as well. Schneider’s left-field innings factor into this situation, and it makes for some tough lineup decisions every day.
Kiermaier and Varsho boast superior defensive prowess, but Schneider swings the bat well. Does John Schneider platoon Varsho and D. Schneider? Do Kiermaier and Varsho trade days in centre field? It’s only 16 games in, but this will continue to be discussed all season long. If Varsho and Kiermaier pick things up offensively, the topic will only get hotter.
Honourable Mention: Yimi Garcia looks f’ing nasty.

Check out these posts...