'That day in Minnesota changed a lot': Berríos evolving into one of MLB's top starters

May 20th, 2024

TORONTO -- Something changed in that night in Minneapolis.

Standing in the corner of the visitors' clubhouse after the Blue Jays lost 2-0 to the Twins in the American League Wild Card Series, the season has just collapsed around Berríos, ending amid controversy after he’d been yanked just three innings into what could have been the performance of a lifetime. That was his old team. That was his old house. That was supposed to be his moment.

Berríos inhaled, paused and answered every question, staring a million miles into the distance. There’s trauma in that day. He never wants to feel it again.

“That day in Minnesota changed a lot of things about me,” Berríos said. “I was more open [after that]. I spoke. I let them know how I felt and what I wanted and they understood. I’ve shown this with my work ethic every five days out there. It’s not enough to talk, I’ve also shown them. That’s how I want to bring myself here every day now. I’m not just going to talk. I’m going to say it, do it and show [them] the road.”

The evolution of Berríos has been subtle but steady. In Monday’s 9-3 win over the White Sox at Rogers Centre, Berríos gave the Blue Jays six-plus innings of three-run ball. It wasn’t flashy, but when Danny Jansen drives in five runs and Bo Bichette goes 4-for-4, it’s more than enough. Berríos has built a career on doing more than enough.

Berríos has been one of this decade’s safest bets, but his career does not stand on stubbornness. He’s shaped himself around the changing game -- an inch here, an inch there -- creating a character that teammates speak of like a superhero.

“La Makina is the machine. He doesn’t stop,” said Kevin Gausman. “He’s different than all of us.”

That difference always felt physical. It might not pop through your TV screen, but Berríos belongs in an NFL locker room. He’s a free safety with a curveball.

Teammates don’t see a robot when they look at Berríos, mindlessly plodding forward, doing hard work for the sake of hard work. Instead, they see this character, “La Makina”, a man who works in ways those around him simply can’t. That’s always been the story of Berríos back to his days with the Twins, but this next evolution is about the person, not the pitcher.

Berríos demands respect. In both his failures and his successes, he’s earned this.

“We’ve had numerous talks last season and this season about him becoming a leader. That shows,” said manager John Schneider. “He portrays that on the mound right now … He’s taken a step forward not just in pitching and executing, but he feels like he’s one of the guys and that shows.”

Comfort matters. Berríos has been here a few years and has a lucrative, long-term contract in his back pocket, but the Twins were his home for a decade. That’s where he became a man. It takes time to feel the ground grow solid underneath your feet, and now that Berríos feels that, he’s using it.

“I want to win. I want to win, but I know I can’t win by myself,” Berríos said. “I need everybody on the same page. I’ve been more vocal and I feel more confident now because I spoke. I let it go.”

The evolution of Berríos has always been incremental, but something feels different about him in 2024. There’s more of an edge to Berríos on the mound. He’s built a reputation as one of baseball’s good guys, but that same unshakable confidence we saw last October 4 in Minneapolis has only grown.

“His voice carries weight,” Schneider said, “whether that’s in meetings or just interacting with the guys. It takes time to get to that point. I think he’s at that point. When he talks, people listen.”

Berríos is tied for third in the American League with 60 1/3 innings, setting him up for a shot at 180-plus again this season. His 2.98 ERA puts him on a path to set a new career best, beating the 3.52 mark from the year he was traded to Toronto. That’s all lovely, but it falls within the realm of reasonable outcomes for a pitcher of his talent.

It’s the change Berríos has felt inside himself that makes this different. He can’t reach back and change that day in Minneapolis, but it changed him, and we’ve never seen a fuller, freer version of Berríos.