'A matter of time': Berríos (9 K's) looks like 'La Makina' again

April 26th, 2023

TORONTO -- The standard set of tools hasn’t always worked to evaluate the past year of ’ career. Alongside all of the fancy stats, anecdotes and eye tests, you need a degree in philosophy.

Berríos’ struggles were beginning to tiptoe into the existential. What are the limits of patience and trust? How does the mind impact the body? When does a good pitcher become something less? When does a hill become a mountain?

There were so many questions and so few answers. But finally, Berríos is finding them.

Tuesday night’s 7-0 Blue Jays win over the White Sox was another gem from the right-hander, who threw seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. That’s three positive steps in a row, and at this point, he’s starting to run.

“I think we can say he’s on a pretty good roll,” said manager John Schneider. “It can snowball either way. Maybe you saw it a little bit the opposite way last year. He’s just being confident in his work and now he’s seeing the results that go with it. I’m not going to ask anyone to be who they’re not, but when you’re doing what he’s doing, it’s easy to feel the way he’s feeling.”

The first inning alone showed the brilliance of Berríos when he’s at his best, which has been a rare sight these past 13 months. After fanning White Sox leadoff batter Luis Robert Jr. with a slurve that snapped down and away from his swing, Berríos proceeded to strike out the side with a 97.4 mph fastball at the top edge of the zone. There simply aren’t that many starting pitchers in Major League Baseball capable of throwing those two exact pitches.

Berríos was pitching with conviction, which is becoming Schneider’s favorite word as his rotation finds its groove all at once. There’s a fire to the Puerto Rican righty again. You can see “La Makina” coming out.

“It’s only a matter of time,” said Schneider. “When you’re that good, it’s only a matter of time until you get back on track.”

What’s made this past year so strange, though, is that it was never all that far away.

Berríos ranked dead last among all qualified starters with a 5.23 ERA last season, but at no point did a fatal flaw appear. There were some ugly stat lines, sure, but Berríos didn’t watch his fastball velocity plummet, walk 10 batters in a row or emotionally unravel on the mound. Instead, everything seemed to be an inch off. Not much, but enough to start the dominos falling in all the wrong directions.

That’s why so much of Berríos’ return to this form has relied on the Blue Jays’ belief in him, and his own belief in himself. Everyone involved knew that the 28-year-old was close, but there was another reality lurking outside the window late at night: that Berríos wouldn’t find his stride again. That felt like an overreaction at first, but as 2022 wore on and trickled into the early days of '23, those doubts crept in further.

“He’s his own harshest critic,” said Schneider. “He was extremely accountable to some rough starts, but he had some good starts too. I don’t think he was ever down. I don’t think he ever lost confidence. Like any player, though, a hitter or a pitcher, when it’s not going your way, you can let it eat at you.”

This is why Berríos feels such confidence, such vindication. After wearing the bad days, he’s wrapping both arms around the good ones.

“When you have a night like this, you pitch well and we win, you have to enjoy it even more than the bad days [hurt],” Berríos said. “It’s a blessing and a gift to wake up every morning, to be alive and have my family, to be able to still play at this level. When we win, we have to enjoy it a little bit more.”

Berríos didn’t need much help, but provided more than enough, launching two home runs to left field as he continued to round the corner with momentum. Jansen was off to a slow start of his own in 2023, but he has now homered three times in his last three games, showing the pull-side power that redefined his game a year ago.

They won’t all come this easily, but this shutout win was the Blue Jays at their absolute best, outplaying the White Sox in every phase. That will always start with the rotation, though, and after a difficult year that felt like a decade, Berríos is part of the solution again.