Bichette ambushes Reds with 1st-pitch HRs

Blue Jays shortstop's 50th, 51st career jacks back strong 8-inning start by Manoah

May 22nd, 2022

TORONTO -- “Don’t count that guy out.”

Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah’s words of admiration for Bo Bichette were more than warranted, as the shortstop ensured another stellar start by Manoah wouldn’t be wasted on Saturday afternoon.

Bichette homered twice and drove in all of his team’s runs in Toronto’s 3-1 win over the Reds at Rogers Centre. His sixth career multi-homer game handed Manoah the run support he needed to earn his fifth win of the season and put the Blue Jays in position to go for their first series sweep of the year on Sunday.

“Day in and day out, he comes in, he puts his work in and puts his head down,” Manoah said of Bichette. “It doesn't matter if he goes 1-for-4 or if he goes 4-for-4. He's the same guy, he shows up to work the next day and just grinds. So, [Saturday’s performance] is no surprise at all.”

Manoah is no stranger to grind and competitiveness, either.

The big right-hander pitched eight innings of one-run ball on seven hits and no walks to go with four strikeouts on 83 pitches.

It was the type of start that could very well have ended different as the Blue Jays’ offense continues to struggle as a whole. Toronto went 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position, with Reds starter Hunter Greene racking up six strikeouts in six innings.

But this time, Bichette took matters into his own hands.

“I’ll tell you what, nobody wins anything or accomplishes anything by being passive,” Bichette said. “So, you have to go out there and give it everything you got, trust in your ability and trust in your work.”

That trust was made perfectly clear when Bichette, after seeing nothing but sliders in a first at-bat strikeout, swung at a first-pitch slider from Greene his next time up, sending it a Statcast-projected 405 feet into the left-field seats to tie the game at 1 in the fourth.

Bichette did it again in the seventh -- on another first-pitch slider -- against reliever Dylan Cessa to make it 3-1. Those two shots marked home runs Nos. 50 and 51 in Bichette’s young career.

“Guys get on him a lot because he swings a lot,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “But both his home runs tonight came on the first pitch. … He’s aggressive. You don’t want to take that away from the kid.”

Career days like this have become more common of late, as Bichette retrieves his identity as an aggressive hitter with a clear plan when he comes to the plate. After a relatively slow start to the season, and a disappointing 26.8 percent strikeout rate in April, he now has a team-leading 12 RBIs in the month of May.

Bichette’s still swinging the bat often and chasing pitches outside the zone from time to time, but he’s doing so with a purpose. Facing a flamethrower with a good slider such as Greene, who threw above 100 mph a grand total of 24 times in six innings, Bichette knew what his mentality should be.

“I think that the slider just plays up when you're trying to hit 101 [mph],” he said. “So just try not to rush yourself, stay calm. … He has a good arm. Anybody like that is going to be a challenge for us. Facing talent is always a challenge -- and it's welcomed.”

The Blue Jays desperately need more of what they got from Bichette out of their top hitters, especially when the team’s rotation keeps delivering quality starts – an American League-best 18 on the year -- just like Manoah did on Saturday.

“He’s just an incredible competitor,” Bichette said of Manoah. “Every single time he goes out there, he wants to win really bad. It's contagious.”

Manoah’s competitiveness showed when Montoyo ended his day after the eighth inning and brought in closer Jordan Romano. Manoah didn’t hide his displeasure with being pulled, gesturing and arguing with Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker in the dugout.

“I love that. I love that kid,” Montoyo said after the game. “Whether it’s the first, sixth, seventh or eighth, he never wants to come out. And that’s why he’s that good.”

With a two-run lead and 83 pitches thrown, Manoah deemed it important to try to make his case for a potential complete game. But the decision paid off for Montoyo and the Blue Jays when Romano promptly struck out the side for his 14th save.

“He knows how competitive I am,” Manoah said. “But we’ve got the best closer in baseball. [Charlie] is doing his job, protecting me. And we’ll keep moving forward.”