TORONTO — Even though Whit Merrifield has reached base in every game he’s played this season, he thinks he can do more for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cavan Biggio’s three-run homer handed Toronto a 5-2 win over the struggling Chicago White Sox on Monday. Merrifield felt “pretty good” after he extended his on-base streak to 17 games with an RBI double and two walks but he still has some reservations about his play this year.
“I’m still not where I want to be but I’m pretty close to getting out, I feel like,” said Merrifield, who improved his batting average to .317. “I like the kind of work I’m putting in and where I’m at.
“Not to get too deep into it but my game is when I’m not going great I could still be productive.”
Biggio’s homer and Merrifield’s run-scoring double both came in the fourth inning as Toronto (14-9) won back-to-back games. Matt Chapman added a late RBI double in the seventh after almost hitting a solo homer in the fourth.
Merrifield said that depth is the Blue Jays’ greatest strength.
“Even though I don’t quite feel great I can do other things to contribute,” said Merrifield, who has 19 hits, six walks, and one hit-by-pitch in his streak. “It’s so great playing with this lineup. This stuff is contagious.”
Chris Bassitt (3-2) allowed just two runs on three hits and three walks, getting four strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings before leaving the game with lower-back tightness. The quality start lowered Bassitt’s earned-run average from 5.40 to 4.82.
“My right side was just kind of tight all game. It was not like one pitch that grabbed me. It was in the bullpen warming up,” said Bassitt. “It was just ‘all right, let’s get to 100 pitches and we’re good to go.’
“I never felt any threat of an injury the whole game.”
Relievers Zach Pop of Brampton, Ont., Tim Mayza and Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., closed it out, with Romano picking up his eighth save of the season.
Andrew Vaughn’s two-run double in the third was all the offence Chicago (7-16) could muster in its fifth-straight loss.
“We’ve got to get through it. Baseball is tough,” said Vaughn. “There’s going to be streaks where not everything is clicking. We’re kind of going through that right now.”
Veteran Lance Lynn (0-3) gave up four runs on five hits and three walks over five innings of work, striking out four. Gregory Santos, Keynan Middleton and Jake Diekman came out of the White Sox’s bullpen, with Middleton surrendering a run.
“He’s not a fun at bat for me. For some reason I don’t pick up the ball well against him,” said Merrifield of Lynn. “So I was fired up today that I squared him up, for sure, because he’s had my number of plenty of times.”
Vaughn’s line drive to centre field gave Luis Robert Jr. and Andrew Benintendi ample time to run home in the third.
Chapman brought the 26,293 fans in attendance to their feet with a deep fly ball but Robert caught it just over the new lower centre-field wall at Rogers Centre. Chapman’s hit flew 404 feet, with dead centre field now 400 out from home plate.
The disappointment of that almost-homer seemed to awaken Toronto’s offence.
Alejandro Kirk walked in the next at bat, then Brandon Belt singled to right. Merrifield sent a bouncing double up the left-field line to score Kirk and cut Chicago’s lead to one.
Biggio then launched a 362-foot shot to deep right field. His second of the season gave the Blue Jays a 4-2 lead.
Perhaps more impressively, a fan caught Biggio’s home run ball in his beer after it had bounced off a high-top table in the new right-field deck that was part of the off-season renovations at Rogers Centre.
Chapman made up for his near-homer three innings later, putting the ball just over Benintendi’s head in left for a double that scored Vladimir Guerrero Jr., for a 5-2 lead after seven.
ESPINAL BACK — Second baseman Santiago Espinal was available to play for the Blue Jays, two days after taking a fastball to the wrist from New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. Espinal took ground balls during batting practice on Monday but Whit Merrifield started at second for Toronto.
PEARSON RETURNS — Right-handed reliever Adam Cimber was placed on Toronto’s 15-day injured list hours before Monday’s game. The sidearmer was put on the IL with a rhomboid strain in his throwing arm. Hard-throwing righty Nate Pearson was recalled from the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., in a corresponding move. Once a highly touted prospect, Pearson has not played for Toronto since 2021.
ON DECK — José Berríos (1-3) will take the mound on Tuesday in the second game of the Blue Jays’ three-game set with the White Sox.
Chicago will counter with Mike Clevinger (2-1).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press