Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker remains confident that Jose Berrios will play an impactful role in the rotation this season despite a poor start last weekend at the World Baseball Classic.
Berrios, who struggled to a 5.23 ERA and a league-leading 199 hits allowed in 2022, was only able to get three outs for Puerto Rico in a loss to Venezuela on Sunday. Berrios’ final line for that game was five hits, six runs (five earned) with one walk and two strikeouts on 38 pitches, and his status as a starter for Puerto Rico moving forward in the tournament remains an open question.
However, Walker said that the reason for those struggles in that game was less about Berrios’ abilities and more related to the gameplan Puerto Rico deployed against Venezuela’s hitters, notably Orioles star Anthony Santander who hit a home run in that game.
“Initially I was a little bit concerned because of the way the outing went, but then when I saw it first hand I wasn’t as concerned at all,” Walker said of the Venezuela outing. “From that standpoint, it was actually a relief because I think it was more on how we’re going to attack hitters… It certainly wasn’t his stuff, it was more pitch selection in that game.”
Berrios, 28, is in the second year of a seven-year, $131-million contract with the Blue Jays so the club is heavily invested in his development. To that end, Walker spent a lot of time this winter studying what went wrong with the right-hander last season and designed a plan to improve the quality of the strikes he throws.
As Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported earlier in spring training, the Blue Jays asked Berrios to work on three key movements:
• Maintaining a steady eye-level with the plate by ensuring his head doesn’t lean to one side or the other and is aligned with his spine, something a move to the middle of the rubber should help.
• Being more consistently aggressive driving off his back leg.
• Staying firm on his front side, keep his glove tight on the inside of his body, preventing him from opening up and dragging his release point.
Once Berrios returns from the WBC the Blue Jays will be able to continue the work that they hope sets him up for success, Walker said.
“For him, right now is kinda what we’re concentrating on,” Walker said, adding that he was happy where Berrios was at before he left for the WBC. “We just want to get Jose back here, to be honest with you, and get him into a grove here with us and our catchers… I expect him to be solid this year, for sure.”
In the same interview, Walker also touched on how the team will deploy both catchers this season, incorporating Chris Bassitt into the rotation, and Nate Pearson’s improvements after a long injury recovery. You can listen to the entire interview in the audio player below.