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Bassitt Puts It All In Perspective If Jays Intend To Contend For Al East Title

One of the more eloquent players in MLB is Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Chris Bassitt – intelligent, experienced, reflective. A beat reporter’s dream.

Yesterday he spoke to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi on the alarming spread of serious arm injuries knocking some of the best young pitching talents onto the sideline for long periods of time. Some people are calling it the “endangered ace crisis.”

“It makes me sick,” Bassitt told Davidi, watching blue chips talents like the Atlanta Braves’ Spencer Strider, Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Guardians, and L.A. Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani all having undergone elbow surgeries.

For Bassitt, it’s an over-obsession with velocity, going all the way back to when the pitcher is starting out in the game. Bassitt himself had Tommy John surgery in 2016 when he was with the Oakland A’s, an injury which he said came down to a hyper-focus on velo.

Last night’s Bassitt start against the first-place New York Yankees – a 3-1 Jays’ win – was a clinic on how MLB pitchers can stay in the game longer, stay healthy, by mixing off-speed with selective velo (among the 97 pitches he threw, a healthy mix of sinkers, cutters, curveballs, and sliders, that slow sweeper, a few splitters and changeups, mixed in with mid-90s fastballs).

If pitchers are going to stay off the injury list, they must pitch smarter. Bassitt said that’s one reason why he’s proud of this Jays’ team – they have a core of four starting pitchers (Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Bassitt) who have all bought into that. That fifth spot, whether it turns into Bowden Francis, Alek Manoah or Cuban free agent Yariel Rodriguez, is the curveball in that.

If the Jays (9-8) are going to contend in an American League East led by the Yankees (12-5) and the Baltimore Orioles (10-6), their starting pitchers are going to have to be as healthy as last season, or it’s adios muchachos. So far their hitting hasn’t been blowing anyone anyway (maybe Justin Turner is the exception): .214 average with runners in scoring position in 17 games (28th in MLB), 1 HR in that situation (last in the league), .643 OPS (27th in MLB).

Four of their starters hit at least 31 games started in 2023.

Last night’s line for Bassitt (now 2-2, 4.03 ERA on the season): 6.1 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER, 5 K, 2 BB, all against a daunting Yankees’ lineup featuring a core of Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rizzo.  

Berrios, off to a 3-0 start this season has been elite in terms of staying healthy – knock on wood – someone Bassitt specifically referenced. Look at the Berrios’ line over the past 34 GS, according to VOT6 on X: 205.2 IP, 2.98 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .229 BAA, 8.45 K/9, 2.45 BB/9. Berrios makes $17.7 million USD per season, and he’s performing like an ace.

The Blue Jays will go as far as their starting pitching takes them. Keep an eye on the bullpen as well – with closer Jordan Romano and reliever Erik Swanson expected to re-join the Blue Jays today after re-habbing injuries.

Tonight, it’s Kikuchi (0-1, 2.30 ERA, 20 Ks) on the mound against Carlos Rodon (1-0, 2.87 ERA, 13 Ks). Game time is 7:07 p.m. EST.


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