Pete Walker has long had a reputation as a valuable baseball mind, but lately the mystique is starting to wear off of the long-time Blue Jays pitching coach.
Before I start blaming Walker for everything that’s gone wrong with the Blue Jays pitching staff, let me just say that I’ve been a long-time fan, and I understand why he’s earned such a solid reputation. We saw the plus side of what he can do when he squeezed all he could out of Robbie Ray and Steven Matz last year, and they aren’t the first pitchers to come to Toronto and improve their career trajectory. That said, that same magic hasn’t worked for a pair of current Blue Jays starters in Yusei Kikuchi, and to a lesser extent with Jose Berrios.
Kikuchi was a complete disaster again last night as the Blue Jays dropped their second straight game to the lowly Oakland A’s. Just as we’ve seen with the left-hander earlier this year, Kikuchi completely lost the feel for his fastball. For those that didn’t watch the game, I’m not just talking about missing spots in the strike zone. I’m talking about full-blown, no idea where the ball is going out of his hand.
Simply put, I don’t think the Blue Jays can afford to keep Kikuchi on the big league roster. Two starts ago I expected that the Japanese southpaw might be headed for some sort of IL stint to work on his mechanics, but he had a bounce-back performance last time out that earned him the start for Tuesday’s game. Unfortunately he was right back to being lost on the mound, and I can’t imagine the Blue Jays will run him out there again in five days.
As for Berrios, the Blue Jays have to be disappointed with the performance of their Opening Day starter over the first half, and some of his inconsistencies might be due to changing up his arm angle.
I’m not going to sit back and pretend that I know a fraction of what Pete Walker brings to the pitching staff on a daily basis, but it doesn’t take an expert to see that some things just aren’t working this year. There have been some success stories, such as the continued emergence of Alek Manoah as a legitimate Cy Young contender, and Kevin Gausman’s mostly strong first half, but lately it feels like the pitching staff is starting to come apart at the seams.
I think we can all agree that the Blue Jays need some help right now, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. With that in mind, we can’t put all of the blame on Walker and/or Charlie Montoyo, and Ross Atkins and the front office has to be accountable for their part in this mess as well. However, I’m seeing a very different sentiment about the Blue Jays’ coaching staff lately as the team continues to scuffle, and Walker isn’t immune from the criticism this time.
In a perfect world the Blue Jays front office will be able to acquire the help they need for the pitching staff, and do it sooner than later. In the meantime, the Jays are going to have to find a way to keep the season from going off the rails. That has to start with taking Kikuchi out of the rotation, at least for the time being, but it’s not like there are a pile of contenders for a rotation spot ready and waiting. Max Castillo has pitched well and will likely get an opportunity, but Thomas Hatch was shelled by the Rays on the weekend, and Casey Lawrence hasn’t looked a whole lot better.
While I’m sure the front office will continue to work the phones looking for upgrades, some of the needed improvement has to come from within. Hopefully the coaching staff can help get some of these arms back on track, otherwise there could be some changes coming at some point down the line, even if it was hard to imagine that would ever be the case.