SEATTLE -- Bo Bichette has a knack for looking like a veteran at the plate, even against an all-time great who’s been pitching in the Major Leagues since Bichette was 7.
The story on Saturday night in Seattle -- before the Blue Jays stormed back to win, 7-5 -- was the return of King Felix. Out since May 11, Felix Hernandez returned to the mound to an ovation from the Mariners’ faithful, but Bichette nearly stole the moment on the first pitch of the ballgame. The towering shot from Bichette swung the roar to the thousands of Canadian fans in attendance, but fell just short of clearing the wall for a flyout.
Next time up, Bichette left no doubt.
The 21-year-old rookie connected on a low liner in the third inning that soared over the wall in left-center, measuring 408 feet with a sound off the bat that made its destination obvious. This was Bichette’s eighth home run of the season and it was on brand, given that they’ve averaged 408.5 feet.
“It’s been fun for me to watch,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after the win. “Luis Rivera came, after he hit that double in the eighth inning, and he said, ‘It’s amazing what that kid’s doing. It’s not easy to do that, and against all kinds of pitches.’ It’s been fun. This guy is going to be a star for a long time.”
With Bichette’s consistent line-drive contact, there won’t be many wall-scrapers, but it’s his ability to control at-bats and have immediate success at the Major League level against new pitchers that has been so special. Part of the credit goes to Bichette’s confidence, part of it goes to his natural, athletic swing that allows Bichette to adapt on the fly.
“Growing up, my dad let me do my thing and be athletic, be myself,” Bichette said. “I was never forced into one swing, so I’m able to make adjustments on the fly.”
Since Bichette isn’t tied to rigid mechanics, it slightly increases that microscopic window of time that a hitter has to make a decision on his swing. If he’s looking low, but the pitch comes in high, then Bichette is still equipped to make that natural pivot immediately and barrel up the baseball.
Bichette wasn’t done, either. He singled home another run in Toronto’s four-run seventh inning before ripping an RBI double deep into the left-center-field gap in the eighth for an insurance run, giving him back-to-back three-hit games in Seattle.
With 21 extra-base hits over the first 25 games of his career, Bichette ranks second in the history of the American League behind only Joe DiMaggio, who hit 22 in 1936.
While Bichette has hit at every level, he still carries a chip on his shoulder defensively after years of doubt regarding his ability to stick at shortstop long-term. Bichette has the necessary athleticism, but also showed his sharp baseball instincts in the bottom of the eighth when he threw out Daniel Vogelbach, who aggressively broke home from third on a ground ball with just one out. It impressed Montoyo just as much as his offensive output.
“I told him when he got to the dugout, ‘Dude, that’s why you’re going to play 20 years in the big leagues and I only played a month, because I would have gone to first, but you’ve got that instinct,” Montoyo said.