Blue Jays: Getting the most out of Randal Grichuk going forward

Jun 17, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Randal Grichuk (15) breaks his bat on a base hit during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees at Sahlen Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Randal Grichuk (15) breaks his bat on a base hit during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees at Sahlen Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

Randal Grichuk drew the short straw on Tuesday and didn’t make the start with George Springer‘s return. How do the Blue Jays get the most out of Grichuk going forward?

It’s an important question that the Jays will have to keep in mind, especially until Springer truly proves that he’s back for good from the Injured List. In his stead Grichuk has had a very good season overall, playing above-average defence in centre field and currently slashing .266/.296/.465 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI. He’s been an important player to this club that’s helped them keep the record at least at .500.

Now that Springer is back on the active roster it makes for a good problem to have for Charlie Montoyo to sort out. With Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. also needing to play nearly every day, the skipper will have to use his DH spot to get all four players on his lineup card on a regular basis. That will work most of the time, but there will be nights when Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and more will need a game off of their legs on defence, and on those nights one of the outfielders is going to have to sit.

The easiest way to address the issue is to let their performances dictate playing time, but it’s not as simple as that. With in Grichuk in particular, although he’s scuffled a bit at the plate lately, there’s no debate about his defensive value compared to Gurriel Jr. or even Hernandez. You also want him to be more like the hitter he was in April/May than he’s been in June, and starting him sporadically isn’t going to help him find that kind of groove. I would argue that you could say the same for Gurriel Jr. as well.

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That’s going to be important as the season goes on, assuming the four outfielders can all stay healthy the rest of the way. In order to get the best out of each player they need to be in the lineup on a near full-time basis, and you can’t always solve that problem with the DH spot. It will cover them the majority of the time which obviously helps, but as I’ve mentioned, Montoyo is going to have to get creative when he wants to put Vlad or Bichette at DH, and also if they still want Rowdy Tellez to be part of the big league roster. In order to do that, we might see Gurriel Jr. playing a little more first base going forward, which is one way to keep the best hitters in the lineup on a regular basis.

For Grichuk, I don’t think he’s hid the fact that he entered camp this year with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He’s been around long enough to understand why the Blue Jays would go out and sign someone like Springer, but that doesn’t mean he wants to sit on the bench as a fourth outfielder. I believe that could be a significant factor now that Springer has returned, and the Blue Jays need to find a way to balance how they motivate Grichuk. You don’t want the veteran feeling unappreciated, but it doesn’t hurt to keep him hungry either.

If I were in Montoyo’s seat, I’d likely do that by making Grichuk the most-days right fielder in order to give him a role that he feels like is his. He’s stated in the past that he believes it’s his best position, and playing with Springer in centre will make the outfield group better. He can still slide over to play centre on Springer’s DH or rest days, but for the most part I’d like to see him established as the main right fielder. That might get a little trickier for Hernandez and Gurriel Jr., but I feel like that’s an easier situation to navigate.

Even during Grichuk’s pre-game interview with Sportnet’s Hazel Mae, Grichuk didn’t look particularly happy when it started. He joked that he drew the “short straw”, and by the time the interview was over a combination of Mae’s professional line of questioning and some jokester teammates had him smiling, but I’m confident in saying that Grichuk doesn’t want to play second fiddle in the outfield going forward. Based on the way he’s performed, I’d say that’s fair.

That’s an important part of the puzzle for the Blue Jays as well. In a lot of ways Grichuk has started to regress closer to career norms, but for the most part this season he’s looked like a more polished hitter. He entered Tuesday night tied with Bichette for 11th in the American League in RBI with 47, and as we’ve already talked about, he’s been crucial in weathering the storm of Springer’s absence.

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I’ll concede that I thought the 2021 season would see Grichuk on the bench more often than not, but now that we’re more than 70 games in the season I’ll be the first to admit he’s earned his every-day spot.