In a season of adjustments, now is the time for the Blue Jays’ Berrios to keep building

BOSTON — For Jose Berrios, it’s been a season of adjustments. He messed up with his arm slot; he tried a new sequencing; he worked to attack different lanes. Its catchers settled in a variety of places. It moved from one side of the rubber to the other and back again. He’s looked for a consistent exit point throughout, looking like the frontline starter he has been when he has it, and taking immense damage when he doesn’t.

Let’s take a quick look at his year. Here’s what Berrios’ delivery looked like on opening day:

And here it is in June, after moving to the left side of the rubber:

A month later, Berrios was back on the right side when he left on Canada Day:

And, finally, here’s Berrios from last weekend’s outing in the Bronx – where he struck out 9 in 6.2 innings from a one-point ball – starting with his hands up and keeping them there as he begins his delivery:

It’s the last wrinkle. One Berrios has worked with Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker for a while and now uses him in games. The idea is for Berrios to move more efficiently in his delivery, taking a quicker route to the sweet spot that has eluded him all season. When it comes to throwing and hitting – anything, really – the fewer moving parts the better.

Here’s what the hand adjustments look like side-by-side with his season-opening delivery, using Berrios’ May 11 departure from Yankee Stadium for a consistent camera angle:

“It’s just a matter of simplifying it a bit to try to get a bit more consistency in its exit point,” says Walker. “It’s really a matter of timing. When your hands move that much before the release, there is always a problem with timing. And I think that affected him and his release point on his breaking ball.

“And it’s not just on the grid showing the exit point. It’s when you get your grip, how you get your grip, how you feel with your arm stroke. And I just think it felt like clean it up a bit and we’ll see if it continues to work.

The first returns Wednesday at Fenway Park were ominous. Berrios walked around trouble in his first inning but couldn’t in the second, walking Kike Hernandez six pitches before getting burned by Franchy Cordero on an elevated fastball for a two-point shot, the 27th homer Berrios, MLB leader, dropped out this year.

But Berrios raised his level as the night went on, blocking runners in the third and fourth with a pair of timely double-play grounders, the first on a well-tunneled curveball after a quadruple to Rafael Devers, the second on another good breaking ball thrown in the same lane behind a double in the end zone. And then he struck out his last six batters consecutively in the fifth and sixth innings, capping a five-hit, two-run effort in what eventually became a 3-2 Blue Jays win over the Boston Red Sox in 10 sleeves.

“He had some really good things tonight. Velo was there, breaking the ball was there. The shift to lefties and righties was there,” Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said. “We felt good with him in the sixth inning there. And he answered the bell.

The conclusion to Berrios’ round six was emphatic. He played curveballs on fastballs to bend Alex Verdugo with a four-pitch strikeout. Then, locked in a battle with JD Martinez, he hit the hardest pitch he’s thrown this season, a 97.2 mph warmer he blasted just past the Red Sox designated hitter.

And after a timed mound visit from Walker, Berrios launched Devers with a well-located strike at 96 mph before flying him to deep right field. Berrios roared off the mound, pointing at his receiver, Alejandro Kirk, on his way back to the Toronto dugout.

“I told myself that I had to give everything I had in my tank. I knew it might be the last round. I just came out for this sixth round and did my best,” said Berrios. “I fought all night with my…I don’t know. No stamina because I feel strong and healthy. But something out of my control, my body. But I said to [Blue Jays coaches,] I want to continue competing. I want to try to pitch. And to be able to pitch six innings and finish the way I did, that’s why I gave a pump to [Kirk.”]

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays scratched a pair of runs in the fourth and fifth innings against Red Sox starter Brayan Bello and got the game on extras with immense relief efforts, as Yimi Garcia and Anthony Bass each came out of the bases loaded. , two-man jams in the seventh and eighth.

Garcia hit 98 for just the sixth time this season; Bass, averaging 95 with his sinker this year, was up to 97.

The quality work from the bullpen didn’t stop there, as Adam Cimber was able to navigate the ninth, setting up George Springer to lead the 10th with a brace on the first pitch.

And Jordan Romano, one eye on the zombie runner over his right shoulder, retired the side with a flyball, groundball and strikeout in the bottom half as the Blue Jays won a game with rules different from the one Berrios had started.

Of course, Berrios’ latest tweak isn’t just about his exit point. What’s been so infuriating about his wildly inconsistent results this season is that his stuff — outside of one late May night in Anaheim — has been as consistent as ever. Velocity has been there. Turnover rates are healthy. Breaking balls move as they should. Sometimes it seemed like the hitters knew what was coming.

Like on Opening Day, when the Texas Rangers got into fastballs and let curveballs pass. Or in mid-June in Chicago, when the White Sox sniffed out just two of Berrios’ 72 shots. Or in his two outings against Cleveland, in which the Guardians repeatedly ambushed pitcher throws. The dividing line between Berrios’ worst outings this season has been a lack of swinging strikes. And a lack of swing strikes means hitters aren’t fooled by what you’re throwing.

That’s what makes Walker’s comments about how Berrios manipulates the baseball in his glove to find his grip so interesting. Does Berrios’ new mechanic minimize his movements? Certainly. Does he also hide his right hand better when adjusting his grip? Yeah. And does he keep the ball hidden in his glove a little longer before it gets to home plate? Sure.

“We tried different things. When handling the ball. Where you handle the ball. How you get out of your glove, whether high or low. Your arm path, your arm swing,” Walker says. “You know, if there’s something going on with a tip in the delivery, that would help simplify it. That might alleviate some of that.

Walker doesn’t say anyone tips. But if Berrios was, it would certainly help explain how one of the most consistent and reliable starters of the last half-decade arrived in late August with the most skilled ERA in MLB and the lead of the league in authorized circuits. If you’re the Blue Jays and this season’s persistent tinkering and tweaking has yet to produce reliable results, don’t you almost hope it does?

Either way, the Blue Jays need to get Berrios all the way through the stretch and into the playoffs. He’s not being paid $131 million over seven years to be a Game 4 starter in a championship series. And yet the fact that starting Berrios or Ross Stripling in Game 3 of a post-season clash has become not only a reasonable debate to have, but a Berrios might not win, speaks volumes about the season that he had.

So, now it’s time to build. It’s time to build on the momentum of strong outings in New York and Boston in what’s to come. It’s time to solidify these new mechanics, it’s time to not let batters pick up any hint of what’s to come. It’s time to be José Berrios again.

“I feel so strong. We are on a good pace. I want to keep building on that,” Berrios said. “That’s why we work. That’s why we come here to the ballpark and go so hard – to get results like I got tonight. I want to take this and keep motivating myself. I want it to continue. »

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