Blue Jays' Berrios working on mechanical adjustments after inconsistent season
Pitcher's former Toronto teammate Teoscar Hernandez loses arbitration case
Coming off a season where inconsistency was the norm, Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Jose Berrios has been working on a number of mechanical changes in recent weeks to get back on track.
Berrios was remarkably steady over his first five full-time seasons in the big leagues. He showed flashes of brilliance last year but was also shelled on a few occasions.
He posted a 12-7 record with 149 strikeouts but his earned-run average (5.23) was his highest since his rookie season in 2016 with Minnesota.
"I think we're in a great spot with where his stuff plays," Blue Jays manager John Schneider said Saturday from the team's spring training site in Dunedin, Fla. "I've said it forever: his track record speaks for itself. We're comfortable and he's comfortable with where he is with everything.
"So just looking forward to a regular year out of him really."
The 28-year-old right-hander has been making daily adjustments at spring training to improve his movement. He's working from the centre of the rubber now, pushing more with his back leg and staying firmer on the glove side while extending his stride.
"I believe in myself," Berrios said. "I'm feeling secure in what I've been doing so far, and I've been feeling pretty [good]. So, I'm comfortable and confident.
Prepping for World Baseball Classic
"Now I just have to go out there and compete and do my thing."
Berrios, sporting a fresh look with dyed blond hair, arrived in Florida last month to start preparations for a busy pre-season. He's slated to represent Puerto Rico at next month's World Baseball Classic.
The Puerto Rican players dyed their hair blond in 2017 when they reached the WBC final before falling to the United States.
"We started early this year," he said with a smile. "We always do something to create that good chemistry."
Berrios spent parts of six seasons with the Twins before being dealt to Toronto midway through the 2021 campaign. He signed a seven-year extension worth $131 million US with the Blue Jays that fall.
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It was the second-richest deal in franchise history behind the six-year, $150-million contract signed by outfielder George Springer earlier that year.
Berrios is one of four locks in Toronto's starting rotation with ace Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and newcomer Chris Bassitt.
"I want to bring more to my team and to the table," Berrios said. "I've been working so hard to get better."
Highs and lows
Berrios lasted just one-third of an inning in his first start last season and was 1-2 with a bloated 7.01 earned-run average in the month of May.
He delivered a 13-strikeout performance against his former team in early June and followed that with an eight-inning gem against the Detroit Tigers. But he gave up at least six earned runs over two of his next three starts.
It was the story of his season. Masterful at times, seemingly lost at others.
Berrios said he never gave up during the rough spells and learned a lot from the experience.
"Never give more credit to a hitter than they have to give to me," he said. "Just believe in myself. I'm Jose Berrios and I'm here because I've been doing a lot of good things [on the field].
"I have to still believe in that and just keep improving [and] I know I'll be good at the end of the day."
The Puerto Rico team is headlined by Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez. Canada will play in Pool C at Phoenix from March 11-15 in a group with the U.S., Colombia, Great Britain and Mexico.
Teams go 13-6 vs. players in arbitration
Seattle outfielder Teoscar Hernandez was among five players who lost their salary arbitration cases on Saturday as teams finished with a 13-6 advantage in decisions.
Los Angeles Angels infielder Gio Urshela, Tampa Bay relievers Colin Poche and Ryan Thompson and St. Louis reliever Genesis Cabrera also lost their cases.
Teams won most decisions for the fourth straight year and have a 347-257 record since arbitration began in 1974.
Hernandez, acquired by the Mariners from Toronto in a November trade, will receive $14 million US instead of his request for $16 million after a hearing Friday before Mark Burstein, John Woods and Howard Edelman.
The previous high for an arbitration case that went to a decision was $13.5 million by pitcher Gerrit Cole in his 2019 win over Houston and by pitcher Max Fried in his loss to Atlanta this year.
The 19 hearings this year were up from 13 last year and the most since 22 in 2018. Hearings were held in person at St. Petersburg, Fla., following two years of Zoom sessions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A 2021 all-star, the 30-year-old Hernandez hit .267 with 25 home runs and 77 RBI in 131 games last season for Toronto, then was traded to Seattle for right-hander reliever Erik Swanson and minor league lefty Adam Macko.