TORONTO — Good pitchers have talent, but great ones have time.
José Berríos has spent the first six weeks of the season looking like everything is a little out of place, never completely falling apart, but never looking like his true self. That changed in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Mariners at Rogers Center when the Blue Jays needed him most.
With closer Jordan Romano sick and setup man Tim Mayza on the disabled list, Berríos put the Blue Jays on their backs with more than seven scoreless innings. He didn’t overwhelm the Mariners, striking out just four, but Berríos returned to his roots as one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the game, throwing the right pitches at the right times.
“That’s the only way you can come back like this, staying [steady]” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He has been working very hard. He is one of the hardest workers I know. It was great to see that output. He was in control the whole time. That second inning was the whole game.”
Montoyo was referring to a bases-loaded jam that Berríos escaped with a well-timed double play, setting up his team to take the lead in the bottom half of the second on a bases-clearing triple by George Springer. That double-play ball is exactly the pitch that Berríos was missing in his previous starts, but that he finally found.
Even with all the outliers this Blue Jays team has experienced in 2022, particularly with its struggling lineup, nothing felt less natural than Berríos’ 5.82 ERA coming into the game Tuesday. He, too, was coming off two ugly outings against the Guardians and Yankees in early May, allowing 11 runs in 10 innings. What made Berríos’ start particularly strange, however, is that he never looked terrible. He is not around.
Instead of losing the zone altogether or giving up shots at the moon, Berríos has simply been a bit out of place. That’s enough in the big leagues, especially while making some early adjustments and playing against a solid schedule through April and May. Berríos is the type of pitcher who will also stay on the beat once he finds it. During Berríos’ previous five seasons, he posted a 3.74 ERA and topped 190 innings in three of four long-running seasons. With each passing season, consistent quality in that number of innings becomes more rare.
“My last two starts didn’t go the way I wanted, but that’s part of the game,” Berríos said. “I keep trying, I keep working hard between starts, and tonight I was able to throw the game that I wanted. I [wished for] and me [wanted] this game so much. Thank God I had it tonight.”
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, the top of the rotation has been boosted by Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah. Gausman is off to a tremendous start to his five-year, $110 million contract, posting a 2.40 ERA with just two walks and not a single home run allowed in 45 innings. Manoah has also dazzled as a sophomore, opening the year with a 1.71 ERA in seven starts. Between this and the offense, it’s been easy to overlook Berríos’ slow start.
However, when this rotation works as it’s supposed to, Berrios doesn’t need to be the clear ace. He, Manoah and Gausman form a three-headed monster, regardless of the order they are deployed in, while Yusei Kikuchi’s big outing on Monday leaves optimism that better days are ahead. If Hyun Jin Ryu can return to anything resembling his 2020 and early 2021 ways, that’s a good rotation.
“We believe in each other and we know we’re an amazing pitching staff,” Berrios said. “The only thing left for us now is to continue to go out, execute our work and work together as we have been doing until now. I saw Kikuchi yesterday, the way he throws, and I took it on my outing tonight. He inspired me. I did well like he did last night.”
Just as the silent offensive took some of the attention away from Berríos, he might as well have returned that favor. Springer’s three-run 3-pointer might have looked like a big blast on the scoreboard, but it was a mistake that left his bat at just 71.5 mph and he fell in front of Steven Souza Jr. before passing him. However, after a week of bad luck at batted ball, the Blue Jays aren’t complaining.
However, having Berrios back to who he is capable of being would be one of the biggest possible boosts for this organization. Capable of being one of the most reliable front-row starters in the game, Berríos should be a winning machine once this lineup is playing to its capacity and, like any great shooter, he’ll know how and when to rise to the occasion. .