Blue Jays: Randal Grichuk and the benefits of being pushed

`Apr 4, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Randal Grichuk (15) rounds second base after hitting a two run home run during the second inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
`Apr 4, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Randal Grichuk (15) rounds second base after hitting a two run home run during the second inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /
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If the Blue Jays ever have a fully healthy lineup, a talented player is going to have to sit. At the rate he’s going, that won’t be Randal Grichuk.

For a player that many of us thought might be traded this offseason, Grichuk has offered a very important contribution over the first seven games of the season. Obviously he’s been especially important with George Springer on the Injured List, but he’s also played very well on both sides of the ball, and he’s reminding us all of what he can do when he’s rolling.

I’ll be the first to admit, I thought that Grichuk would be the odd man out once the Blue Jays had all of their weapons available. I still thought he’d get plenty of playing time, but I figured that if it came down to a battle for at-bats between him and Rowdy Tellez, the Jays would go with the latter’s powerful left-handed bat. So far both players have been given an opportunity, and unfortunately Tellez is now 0-16 to start the year.

It’s not a decision that Charlie Montoyo will have to worry about right away now that Springer has suffered a new injury to his quad, but either way Grichuk has put himself in a great spot to keep his everyday status once he does return. In his absence Grichuk played very solid defence in centre field, even making two diving catches on Thursday night, and he’s also slashing .333/.407/.500 over his first 24 at-bats. It’s a small sample size, but the veteran has shown a patient approach at that plate, and he looks pretty locked in at this early juncture of a new campaign.

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I can’t help but wonder if the pressure to earn his playing time has been a good thing for the 29-year-old. That’s not to suggest he hasn’t been motivated in the past, but there’s a different urgency when you go from being an everyday player to more of a platoon situation. That’s especially the case for a player that will turn 30 this summer, and wants to maintain his status as a valuable contributor as he gets to the back half of his career. He had to fight to play every day earlier in his career when he was in St. Louis, but he was a lot younger then and the circumstances were very different.

Grichuk certainly had to understand that Springer would take his job from last season in centre field once he was signed, but it’s good to see that he hasn’t accepted a bench role because of it. There’s an argument to be made that the Blue Jays are at their best with a lineup that looks like this, again, if everyone were healthy:

1- Springer (CF)
2- Semien (2B)
3- Bichette (SS)
4- Teoscar Hernandez (DH)
5- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B)
6- Cavan Biggio (3B)
7- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF)
8- Grichuk (RF)
9- Danny Jansen (C)

By starting Grichuk instead of Tellez, the Blue Jays would get better overall defence, as the veteran is an above average defender in right field, and certainly a step up from Hernandez, who could then DH. The downside is there is only one left-handed hitter in the group in Biggio, and when he’s right Tellez offers a ton of upside. That said, so far Grichuk has outplayed pretty much everyone on the roster, and the only hitter who has been hotter has been Vlad Jr.

It’s certainly been a bummer that we haven’t been able to see Springer debut in a Blue Jays uniform yet, but at least there’s an upside to be had. It’s given Grichuk a chance to play every day, and an opportunity to stake his claim on the same going forward. He’s always been more than talented enough to be regarded that way, and there’s a reason the Blue Jays handed him a 5-year extension ahead of the 2019 season. However, a lot has changed in two years.

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It’s far too early to re-anoint Grichuk as a budding star after just seven games, but I can’t deny that he’s been one of the best players on the team so far. Who knows, maybe he’s at his best when a little more urgency. Whatever it is, so far it’s working.