TORONTO—On Friday, for the first time in his career, Bo Bichette couldn’t make anything happen at the plate.
Considering the game was his 18th in the majors, it meant the end of a historic run, one that got him within striking distance of Rocco Baldelli’s MLB record of 24 straight games getting on base to start a career.
His 0-for-4 performance didn’t end up hurting the Blue Jays, who went on to win 7-3, and it’s hard to imagine it shattered Bichette’s unflappable confidence — but the way the Mariners attacked him was notable, and could be a template for other clubs.
While Bichette brought an outrageous .365/.420/.689 line into the game, that doesn’t mean that he’s unbeatable at the dish.
“It’s tough to hit what he’s hitting, like .370,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Slowly it’s going to come down, there’s no way he can keep that up.”
Despite his gaudy numbers, Bichette has demonstrated pretty pronounced hot and cold zones in his first few games. The chart below shows the shortstop’s exit velocity by location:
So far, Bichette has done far more damage on pitches inside than offerings away from him. The sample here is way too small for us to know whether he truly struggles with pitches on the outside corner, but that’s where the Mariners got him all night.
In his first at-bat against opener Matt Wisler the right-hander hit him with a barrage of sliders, finally finishing him off with one well off the plate.
From there, it was lefty Wade Leblanc working the outside against Bichette. In their first matchup, the crafty lefty refused to give the shortstop anything hard to hit. That is relatively speaking, of course, since the soft-tosser averages 86.1 mph on his heater.
LeBlanc ultimately retired Bichette on the third changeup of their confrontation, getting him to hit a harmless opposite-field fly ball.
Bichette and LeBlanc tangled again in the fourth, and this time the strategy was different. The southpaw tried to tie the 21-year-old in knots with a pair of fastballs up-and-in.
With the count 1-1, LeBlanc went back to the changeup away and got the result he was looking for — although Bichette made it close with his wheels.
In the rookie’s last chance to extend the streak, LeBlanc favoured cutters, tossing them in three of the four pitches of the at-bat to quickly dispatch Bichette.
Once again, it was the pitch outside, near the edge of the zone, that undid Bichette.
None of this is to say LeBlanc or the Mariners have found a silver bullet to put down Bichette every time. We can’t even say with confidence whether pitches on the outside edge and just off it are his weakness yet. They’re just what he’s struggled with so far.
Even if that winds up being the case, Jose Bautista demonstrated authoritatively that you can be a hell of a hitter and do almost all your damage middle-in.
Realistically, what we witnessed on Friday night was a Mariners staff attacking Bichette in a specific way based on his recent performance.
“They did a good job against him today,” Montoyo said. “They worked him with changeups away and got him to swing and miss.”
Those type of game plans go into effect every night in the majors. What made this one different was just that it was the first one to work against the Blue Jays rookie star.
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