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Atkins: Toronto hitters 'trying to do too much'

@KeeganMatheson
August 12, 2020

Following a start to the 2020 season that could have easily gone better than it did, the Blue Jays find themselves staring at what Charlie Montoyo called “that next jump” competitively. Toronto’s pitching has been solid, from the rotation back through a bullpen that’s surprised many with a modernized look

Following a start to the 2020 season that could have easily gone better than it did, the Blue Jays find themselves staring at what Charlie Montoyo called “that next jump” competitively.

Toronto’s pitching has been solid, from the rotation back through a bullpen that’s surprised many with a modernized look and several young starters excelling in relief roles. The lineup is a different story entirely, as the Blue Jays entered Tuesday’s opener in Buffalo, N.Y., ranking last in the league with just three runs scored per game.

The Blue Jays have been too aggressive at times, and have particularly struggled to produce with runners on base. Only the Mets have swung at more first pitches than the Blue Jays (32.6%), while they rank last in the league in both average (.177) and OPS (.500) when hitting with runners on. On Tuesday, general manager Ross Atkins attributed this to the Blue Jays' young lineup gaining experience as they go.

“Youth is what we’re seeing,” Atkins said on Tuesday afternoon. “We knew that. We expected that there would be bumps. There were times last year when we saw our youth. One of the biggest differences in the Major Leagues -- obviously talent is a difference in the Major Leagues -- but it’s also game planning and the ability to really prepare for lineups and for hitters. Hitters need to make adjustments to that.”

Some of those adjustments came immediately, when Bo Bichette launched a three-run homer to put the Blue Jays ahead and Cavan Biggio extended the lead with an RBI single on Tuesday. The bullpen blew the save in the ninth to force extras, but Travis Shaw was the walk-off hero with a bases-loaded single in the 10th in a 5-4 win over the Marlins.

There has been a clear and understandable frustration from the Blue Jays’ hitters throughout their early-season road trip, because they know they’re capable of much more. To a man, this roster believes it could be sitting at .500 if it had only taken advantage of a few more opportunities along the way, but “close” doesn’t count in the win column.

Taking a deep breath and letting their talent work for itself might be the simplest solution here.

“I do think there’s a bit of guys, just because they believe so much in one another and themselves, they’re trying to do too much,” Atkins said.

Guerrero’s adjustments critical
No Blue Jays hitter better embodies the lineups’ inconsistencies thus far in 2020 more than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who started slow but has shown some signs of life early in August, moving his average to .240 and OPS to .676 entering Tuesday.

Guerrero has looked off balance in his swings at times and expanded the zone in ways we rarely saw in the Minor Leagues. His launch angle is also a major priority and, after averaging 6.7 degrees on balls in play in 2019, per Statcast, he’s averaging that identical 6.7 degrees through 13 games in '20.

“Vladdy will adjust,” Atkins said. “He has the innate ability to manipulate the bat and the bat path to make consistent contact. I think, really, the biggest factor is not a significant fundamental adjustment and it’s not a significant mental adjustment, it really is for him to get more confident so that he’s sticking to his plan and approach, getting deeper into counts.”

Giles approaching key reevaluation
Closer Ken Giles (right forearm strain) will get an MRI on Wednesday as part of a planned reevaluation, and Atkins sounded optimistic that the star right-hander is moving in the right direction.

“He’s recovering well and he’s feeling good,” Atkins said. “He could be throwing soon. This will be significant to see how this goes tomorrow and we’ll make a plan after that.”

Giles last pitched on July 26 in Tampa Bay, where he experienced a worrying dip in velocity, lost the strike zone and was forced to leave the game in the middle of an at-bat.

Giles’ return is critical not just for the Blue Jays’ chances in 2020, but for his own immediate future, as he’s due to hit free agency and is coming off an excellent 2019, when he posted a 1.87 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.