While baseball has been battered by bad news in recent days, leave it to Bo Bichette to find a positive spin.
In a Sunday Zoom chat with the Toronto media, the Blue Jays shortstop said the club was doing just fine on the third of four straight days without a game, the result of COVID-19 cases involving other teams. He added that the Jays were confident despite a 3-4 start, having competed well against tough opposition.
The 22-year-old Bichette also shed light on his role in the addition of his dad, former major-leaguer Dante Bichette, to the Jays coaching staff after an informal gig during spring training.
“It was my decision,” said the shortstop. “He asked me, and he was very wary of the possibility of things being awkward, so it was up to me if he took the job or not.
“A lot of players told me they wanted him there, so I put my ego aside. He’s been awesome and everyone is enjoying having him around.”
By all accounts, the elder Bichette, who hit 274 homers over a 13-year major-league career, has not made things uncomfortable for his son now that they share a dugout.
After Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Nationals in Washington, the Jays’ weekend series in Philadelphia was postponed. They stayed in Washington and arranged workouts at Nationals Park. Pitchers threw simulated games over the weekend, and Matt Shoemaker is the scheduled starter Tuesday, when they are expected to return to action in Atlanta.
“I think in our clubhouse, we believed we outplayed the other team in all but one of those (first seven) games,” Bichette said. “As an offence, we had a chance to put games away, but we didn’t. But I think the first week definitely brought up our confidence.”
Among the first week highlights were Nate Pearson’s major-league debut (five shutout inning against the Nationals) and the emergence of potential spark-plug infielder Santiago Espinal, acquired from the Red Sox for Steve Pearce in 2018. Bichette, Espinal and another prospect, outfielder Forrest Wall, became fast friends in the minor leagues. The trio worked out together during baseball’s four-month layoff caused by the pandemic.
Bichette says he isn’t worried about the early struggles of another friend and teammate: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has one homer, one RBI and a slash line of .172/.200/.276 with almost 70 per cent of his 29 at-bats resulting in ground balls.
“I’ve talked to him. He seems pretty confident, and it’s seven games. Everyone here knows he has the capability of being the best hitter in the world.,” Bichette said. “He will battle back.”
As a team, the Jays have shown encouraging signs on offence compared to a year ago. Plate discipline and pitch selection are more obvious in the Jays’ approach. While it’s a small sample size, they have cut down on strikeouts with 63 in seven games, the eighth-lowest total in the majors.
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“We’ve been known as a team that can hit homers, but we battled against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball,” Bichette said of the season-opening three-game series in Tampa, in which they were outscored 14-12.
“We showed we can create offence in a lot of ways. There’s a vibe in the clubhouse. We’ll go and compete. We stay in the moment and (don’t) let anything get too big … We compete.”