This hitter has really stepped up for Blue Jays

September 27th, 2022

didn’t exactly hit the ground running with the Blue Jays. 

There were some moments early, like some sharp baserunning in his first series in Minneapolis, but at the plate he struggled. Over his first 31 games with the Blue Jays, Merrifield hit .197 with a .515 OPS. 

Merrifield hadn’t exactly been on a tear with the Royals prior to the trade, but this was still well below what was expected from a two-time All-Star who the Blue Jays viewed as an everyday player, even if that meant a different position each day. When Santiago Espinal went down with an oblique strain late last week, though, Merrifield stepped up and rediscovered his swing at Tropicana Field. 

With three home runs against Tampa Bay -- including a massive three-run shot to turn the series in Saturday’s win -- Merrifield showed what the Blue Jays have known all along.

“We’re talking about an established Major League player who was kind of getting used to a different role,” said interim manager John Schneider. “Now, he’ll get put back into a role he’s more familiar with. It was bad timing and good timing.” 

Prior to Espinal’s injury, Merrifield had been relegated to a complementary role. That was brand new to the 33-year-old, who’d played every single game over the previous three seasons, but his new coaching staff has been extremely impressed by how he handled that adjustment. 

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Schneider said. “It’s a new situation for him with a different team, different surroundings, different teammates, different standings. He’s been so professional and so open-minded to it. He’s an awesome teammate. It just really shows up when you do get a chance, you’ve stayed prepared and you have a good attitude about it.” 

When he’s playing like this, Merrifield fits exactly what the Blue Jays like to do. While he was a surprise trade addition at the time -- largely due to his vaccination status that kept him out of Canada earlier in the season, but was no longer an issue by the time the trade went down -- Merrifield’s contact tool, speed and versatility fit how this club operates under Schneider. 

With the Royals, Merrifield wasn’t just an everyday player, but one of the most recognizable names in the lineup each day. That created a dramatic shift to his early days as a role player in Toronto.

“I understood it. We’re in a spot where every game is important,” Merrifield said. “I’m a new guy coming over and I didn’t get off to the start I would have liked to, but I know what I can do. There’s no reason to sit back and dwell on opportunities missed or things you haven’t done. It’s just a matter of working, whether you’re in the game or not, to figure stuff out.” 

Espinal’s timeline is still up in the air, with oblique injuries being one of the trickiest to forecast. Even when Espinal returns, though, there should be plenty of at-bats for Merrifield, especially if he keeps swinging it like this. 

Days he’s not in the lineup, Merrifield represents the Blue Jays’ best pinch-running option off the bench, which should become more valuable in tight postseason games. Regardless of when and how he gets into the lineup, though, the Blue Jays will need Merrifield to produce, and he credits his new teammates with helping him get back to this point.

“I’m at the point where I can talk a lot of crap to these guys now,” Merrifield said with a grin. “That’s the big transition, to get comfortable enough where you can give each other a hard time and feel like you’re a part of the clubhouse, part of the team. These guys made it super easy for myself -- [Mitch] White, [Zach] Pop, [Jackie] Bradley Jr. These guys have been incredible. It’s a fun team to be a part of, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”