My what a difference a day makes. The Toronto Blue Jays jumped on New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova early by working the pitch count and patiently taking their hacks for an 8-4 victory over their AL East rival. Many players contributed to this victory, but after writing an article about plate discipline yesterday, I feel Jays SS Munenori Kawasaki deserves a lot of the credit.
As described by my fellow staff writer, Michael Wray, in his previous article, Kawasaki has become quite the sensation here in Toronto. His high energy and high patience way of playing brought him from the bottom of this Blue Jay line-up, to the top. Today, he led off for the first time in his short time since replacing superstar SS Jose Reyes, and he did not disappoint. In his first AB, he not only worked himself into a 3-2, 6 pitch at bat, but he also got on base with an infield single. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but creating a 6 pitch at bat has been a rarity for the free swinging Jays. Since being brought up from Buffalo, Kawasaki has averaged 5 pitches per at bat. If you have been watching, then you know the patience hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Wray and I had a theory that maybe Blue Jays coach John Gibbons should try Kawasaki at the top of the order, and thankfully he did. The idea was maybe Kawasaki would set some kind of tone for the rest of the line-up. A 32 pitch 1st inning for Nova became a common theme throughout the game. Not only did Kawasaki have a 1st inning single, in his second plate appearance, Kawasaki saw 3 pitches and hit a line drive, sacrifice fly off Nova that gave the Jays an early 2-0 lead. And he was not the only person who drove up Nova’s pitch count.
A normally very aggressive Adam Lind walked 4 times. That nearly doubled his season total! By the 6th inning, Nova was out of the game after walking Lind for a third time and giving up a double to JP Arencibia. His pitch count? 101. It triggered a rally which saw Toronto score four times in the bottom of the frame, giving the Blue Jays a 6-4 lead. While Kawasaki didn’t play a major role in the rally, he still had yet another 5 pitch at bat.
If you look at Kawasaki’s box score, it does not look all that impressive. 1-4 1 R 1 RBI 0 BB 2 K. If you watch the game however, you would have seen Kawasaki was a victim, twice, of home plate umpire Tim Timmons inconsistent strike zone. On his 6th inning AB, Kawasaki struck out because Timmons had widened the zone for Yankees relief pitcher Boone Logan, forcing Kawasaki to reach on a 2-seamer out of the zone. In Kawasaki’s final AB, he was victimized by three pitches, all called strikes, that were not strikes, by Timmons. It prompted Kawasaki to have a conversation with the umpire. The point is, the bat did not come off Kawasaki’s shoulder because he was patiently waiting for a pitch to hit. The Blue Jays, as a whole, walked 6 times today. Jays announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler even took notice during the 6th inning. It was an inning in which Jays hitters made Yankee pitchers throw 37 pitches.
Though Brett Lawrie did have a hell of a game with the bat and in the field for the Jays, a lot of the reason the Jays strung together runs today was because of patience at the plate. It may not have been Kawasaki’s best game, but I am of the belief he set the tone just by working pitch counts right from his first AB. I do believe the patience helped Toronto work favourable counts, which in turn, won them the game. Today, I saw a different Jays team than the one I watched in the first 2 games against the Yankees. Hopefully this patience continues and the victories do to.