Dunedin, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays are ready to play fearless.
Havoc on the bases was part of the club’s style a season ago, but with a full year at Jon Schneider, the aggression will only increase.
,[Schneider is] Just to encourage guys to not be afraid to go out and make plays,” said White Merrifield, who stole 16 bases last season. “Running the bases, the biggest thing is that you can’t be afraid of getting thrown out. You should not have a carefree mindset, but a confident mindset.
Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was a good – perhaps extreme – example of what Schneider is looking for. Merrifield made a count after reaching first base. He made Mitch Keller’s throw over draw. Excellent. Now he could set a trap.
Merrifield took a slight lead the next time, then suddenly crossed his legs and took some strides. The Pirates defense yelled at Keller to take off, so he split. Merrifield ran back to the bag, satisfied that his plan had worked.
Due to new rules governing the pace of the game, a pitcher is allowed to strike out of the rubber twice per at-bat. If he wants the third separation, he Sure Get the runner out, otherwise the opposing team gets a free base. That’s exactly what Merrifield was playing for – he knew Keller would be hesitant about another pick-off attempt.
The 34-year-old shuffled and made a spectacular leap, reaching second so quickly that the catcher didn’t even bother to throw him down. Not a moment later, Merrifield tried to catch the Pirates running back at third while the pitcher was holding the ball, but he fumbled in a close play.
Merrifield said of his regular season approach, “I probably won’t be as crazy on bases as I am now.” “But that’s what spring training is for. Try things out and see what works.
Blue Jays veterans like Merrifield and Kevin Kiermaier benefit from the club’s foundational mindset, but no one on the roster fits the mold quite like Dalton Vershow. Acquired this season from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the 26-year-old is a wild man on the diamond.
Varshaw said that growing up he dabbled in several sports, including tennis, basketball and football, where he played free safety. Unexpectedly, he settled on baseball – Gary Worshaw, Daulton’s father, played eight years in the big leagues. When Gary served as the Philadelphia Phillies bench coach from 2002 to 2006, Daulton got to see up close how a hard-nosed baseball team operated.
“Guys like Kenny Lofton, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins,” Vershow said, “they showed me how to be the player that I am.”
Worsho’s gritty style of playing mirrors that of Mike Trout. Clearly the Los Angeles Angels star is elite at what he does, but Warshaw, like a young trout, is compact, powerful and full of speed, full-time.
Vershow said of his high-flying style of play, “It’s a lot more fun.”
Part of that enjoyment stems from causing chaos on the bases.
“I’m trying to take every 90 [feet] I might try to be really aggressive,” he said. “But smart-offensive.”
As the saying goes, speed never slows down. Varsho is prone to streakiness — for example, he hit a .904 OPS in May last season, then a terrible .488 OPS in June — but he’s buzzed between white lines, slump or no slump. However, over the years, he has learned to rein in that intensity, opting to use it faster rather than limping out with an injury or stretching. So rain makes an exception.
He said, ‘You also have to be smart. “Can’t go full out in the outfield every single day and expect your body to feel good when you get post-season time.”
Timing is key, which means that a few roll-overs or bloopers on defense may not always warrant furious hustle. That said, the Warshows and Merrifields of the world know where their worth is. While these two grinders aren’t quite as dominant as A-graders like Wladimir Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette, they have a secretly-important role to play in Toronto this season.
The Blue Jays need that vicious intensity – it will help them win games. Because come October, one play can make all the difference.