ST. LOUIS -- Surely, it can only get better from here for Chris Bassitt and the Blue Jays.
If you blinked, you missed two home runs on the first three pitches Bassitt threw in his new uniform Sunday. By the time the frustrated veteran walked off the mound in Toronto’s 9-4 loss to St. Louis at Busch Stadium, he’d allowed more home runs (four) and runs (nine) than he ever had in a big league outing. It’s the debut no one expected.
It blindsided Bassitt, too.
“I’m a little bit at a loss for words,” Bassitt said. “I’ve never had a game like this where six different pitches were getting hit hard. We’ll figure out why.”
Bassitt was brought in to be Mr. Reliable in the middle of the Blue Jays’ rotation, and one ugly outing on April 2 doesn’t change his ability to do just that.
The Bassitt we’ve seen over the past five seasons owns a 3.29 ERA over 593 2/3 innings, none of which happened by accident. That’s a fine fit behind the upside of Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. José Berríos looked like the calming influence in the middle of the rotation a year ago, but realities have changed since then. It’s up to Bassitt to stand sturdily in the middle, raising this rotation’s floor and ceiling simultaneously.
That starts with rebounding from this one.
Some pitchers, especially veterans coming off an ugly outing, will tell you that it’s time to “flush it,” meaning wipe the slate clean and try again. Bassitt doesn’t seem like that type of pitcher.
“We’ll go over all of it,” Bassitt said. “Release heights, all of that stuff, see if I was tipping. In any aspect of it, we have a lot of people working on that stuff. We’ll figure out what happened. Sometimes, you’ve just got to say that they’re a really good team and they beat the heck out of me today.”
Beating the heck out of Bassitt started with some extreme aggression from the Cardinals’ lineup, which shouldn’t surprise you when they homered on the first and third pitches of the game.
One new wrinkle Sunday was that Bassitt called his own pitches via PitchCom to Danny Jansen behind the plate, but neither member of the battery nor manager John Schneider believed that was a factor. Jansen and Bassitt entered the game with a plan and adjusted on the fly, chatting between innings. And that plan had to make a quick right turn when they saw just how eager the Cardinals were to attack Bassitt’s pitches in the zone.
The calendar matters here, too.
Bassitt’s velocity was down across the board, with his primary sinker sitting at 91.1 mph, down from his 92.8 mph average a year ago. That same gap was present across several of Bassitt’s eight pitches, which is understandable on a cold day in early April. If this extends into May and June, ring the alarms, but Bassitt has been slowly building up his velocity since the early days of Spring Training, and that may not be finished yet.
“They were aggressive early in the count for sure,” Schneider said. “I think he was just too much in the middle of the plate, and that kind of becomes contagious once you get rolling a little bit. They’re a good team, and with a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate, they didn’t miss it.”
The praise from Schneider and Bassitt wasn’t empty. St. Louis played a solid first series, making a handful of excellent defensive plays Sunday to go along with its offensive outburst. Toronto is far from finding its stride just yet, but eventually, it will need to win games like these against talented clubs like the Cardinals.
“This wasn't an easy series,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. “That's a really good club across the way. They pitch it well and they're very good offensively. They're managed well and they play the game the right way. I felt pretty good about the way we opened up.”
Bassitt will be part of the Blue Jays’ success when that time comes, but this has been an unexpected first trip through the top three starters after Alek Manoah stumbled in the opener, allowing five runs over 3 1/3 innings. Until then, Bassitt awaits a shot at early redemption with nowhere to go but up.