TORONTO — After striking out the first two batters he faced on Tuesday, José Berríos reached back and threw his hardest pitch in years to get Eloy Jiménez out swinging.
Berríos fanned a season-high nine batters as the Toronto Blue Jays routed the Chicago White Sox 7-0. Berríos allowed four hits and a walk over seven innings and said that his new-found velocity is due to a change in mindset.
“I’ve been trying to pitch, not throw, the ball over the plate,” said the 28-year-old Berríos. “So when we have a night like this when we can pitch and, at the same time, throw hard, it’s a blast.”
Berríos’s pitch that fooled Jiménez to close out the first was clocked at 97.4 m.ph., the hardest he had thrown his four-seam fastball in five years. It was 3.4 m.p.h. faster than his average heater last season.
“I just threw to the plate with conviction and confidence,” he said. “That’s why we struck out all three guys. I think we created the momentum from the first inning.”
Catcher Danny Jansen said he noticed the extra zip in Berríos’s delivery when they were warming up.
“Ninety-five, 96, we’ve seen that and that was a 97?” said Jansen, who led the Blue Jays’ offence with two homers. “It was an aggressive pitch. Set the tone for him, for sure.”
Jansen had a three-run homer in the second inning and added a solo shot in the sixth as Toronto (15-9) won its third straight.
“He can do damage,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider of the fifth multihomer game of Jansen’s career. “It comes in bunches with him but his at bats have been pretty consistent for a while and we’re starting to see the results.”
Kevin Kiermaier had a two-run triple and George Springer hit an RBI single, while Whit Merrifield stretched his on-base streak to 18 games with a walk.
Relievers Nate Pearson — making his first appearance for Toronto since October 2021 — and Anthony Bass held the White Sox scoreless.
Mike Clevinger (2-2) gave up six runs on seven hits and three walks, striking out three over five innings as Chicago (7-17) lost its sixth consecutive game. Tanner Banks allowed a run in his three innings of relief.
Berríos took the loss in his last outing, an 8-1 defeat in Houston on April 19, but he only gave up two runs over seven innings and struck out three in that decision. Tuesday’s superb outing lowered his earned-run average from 6.23 to 4.71.
It’s a promising start to the year after he scuffled to a 12-7 record with a 5.23 ERA last season when he allowed the most hits (199) and earned runs (100) in the American League.
“I think the work that he put in in the off-season really put him in a good state of mind,” said Schneider. “He’s confident with some of the adjustments he made.
“When you’re that good it’s only a matter of time until you get back on track.”
Berríos kept humming in the second, quickly dismissing three straight batters but Clevinger ran into trouble.
The White Sox starter walked Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt to start the inning and induced a pop-fly by Merrifield, bringing Jansen to the plate.
Facing a 1-1 count, Jansen sent a slider 359 feet into deep left field for his second homer of the season but his 11th RBI.
Kiermaier added more runs in the fourth, with his triple driving in Merrifield and Jansen. Springer then brought home Kiermaier with a single to left for a 6-0 lead.
Berríos got into the most trouble of his night in the sixth when he gave up a leadoff single to Elvis Andrus, struck out Romy Gonzalez and Luis Robert Jr., and then gave up a base hit to Andrew Bennitendi. But Berríos punched out Jiménez for his seventh K of the night to strand Andrus on third.
Jansen hit his second homer in the bottom of that inning, launching a Banks change-up 393 feet.
BLEEDS BLUE — Toronto closer Jordan Romano, who’s from nearby Markham, Ont., arrived at the ballpark on Tuesday wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. He brought a box of Timbits for his Blue Jays teammates to celebrate the Leafs’ come-from-behind 4-3 overtime playoff victory in Tampa Bay the night before.
ON DECK — Yusei Kikuchi (3-0) gets the start as Toronto closes its three-game set against Chicago with a rare weekday matinee. The White Sox counter with Michael Kopech (3-0).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press