Blue Jays: Chris Bassitt helps steady a beleaguered pitching staff

Toronto Blue Jays v Pittsburgh Pirates
Toronto Blue Jays v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays couldn’t pack their bags, leave the cramped clubhouse at Fenway Park, and board the plane that would take them far from Boston quickly enough.

And who could blame them? The Blue Jays spent a miserable four days playing against the Red Sox. It was cold, rainy, and windy. The Jays were sloppy and largely ineffective. The Red Sox took all four games, putting up 32 total runs, 58 hits, and 21 extra-base hits. It was the first time the Blue Jays had ever done that in getting swept in a four-game series. The Red Sox ran wild on the bases, going 9-9 in stolen base attempts. The usually reliable Kevin Gausman was touched for five runs in a disastrous second inning on Thursday; a day before, the Blue Jays committed four errors behind Alek Manoah on their way to losing 8-3. It was truly a modern-day version of the “Boston Massacre.”

The Blue Jays will be happy they don’t have to meet Alex Verdugo, Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran, and the Red Sox faithful again, at least not for a few months. Friday was the start of a new chapter in a new city, Pittsburgh to play the Pirates at PNC Park. The Blue Jays were trying to put those four games behind them, and the man they counted on to do just that was Chris Bassitt.

Bassitt was looking for his own fresh start. The last time he took the mound, on Sunday against the Mariners at the Rogers Centre, he repeatedly slammed down a tablet in the dugout after giving up a first-inning grand slam to Taylor Trammell, a few batters after he appeared to have struck out Jarred Kelenic to end the first inning.

The temperature was a warm 19 degrees, the skies were clear, and the wind non-existent on Friday in Pittsburgh, and the Blue Jays looked like a different team than the club that had limped out of Boston. They shut out the NL Central-leading Pirates 4-0 behind seven scoreless innings from Bassitt, who gave up just four hits. Bassitt was helped by the aggressive Pirates running into three outs on the bases, but mostly he baffled them with his classic assortment of sinkers, sweepers, and slow curveballs.

Bassitt struck out Jack Suwinski in the second inning on a 72 mph curveball. He got Mark Mathias swinging at a 91 mph fastball in the third. Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates All-Star outfielder, swung feebly at a sinker that darted out of the zone for Bassitt’s third strikeout of the game. He finished with five on the night before giving way to Erik Swanson and Jordan Romano, who closed out the victory to bring the losing streak to an end.

Bassitt was an ideal candidate to be the pitcher who restored some stability to a shaken club. The nine-year veteran, in his first season with the Blue Jays, is still getting used to his new teammates but recognizes what a talented group surrounds him. The last week is far from the club the Blue Jays can be.

“I think we’re in a really good spot right now,” Bassitt said following the win that improved his record to 4-2 on the season. “I’m beyond blessed to be a part of this team that has a core of guys that are super hungry.”

Blue Jays starters had a 9.39 ERA over the five-game losing streak that extended back to Sunday’s loss to Seattle; the rotation had a 0.95 ERA in the six-game winning streak that preceded it, surrendering just four runs in 38 innings. Their ineffectiveness and inability to chew up innings left their bullpen exposed, overused, and worn out. The bullpen was forced to throw 19 innings against the Red Sox and gave up 12 runs. It was the first time the Blue Jays had followed a six-game winning streak by dropping five games in a row since August 1988.

Bassitt has now given up four or fewer hits in each of his last six starts, joining Marco Estrada in 2016 and A.J. Burnett in 2007 as the only pitchers in Blue Jays history to pull off a streak like that. He was the sixth Blue Jays pitcher to throw seven shutout innings this season; the Blue Jays had just seven such starts last season, and eight in 2021. He got some help from the suddenly red-hot Daulton Varsho, who knocked in a run with another extra-base hit and is now 7-14 over his last four games after batting .122 in his previous 20. George Springer snapped out of a 17-game homerless drought with a shot to straightaway centre field.

It was more like what the Blue Jays had come to expect. They showed on Friday that the form they showed in Boston had been left behind. It turns out all they needed was a change of scenery for a new beginning, and Bassitt helped lead the way.