TORONTO — Newcomer Jose Berrios prolonged the Blue Jays' Rogers Centre return party on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Puerto Rican pitcher, acquired before the Major League Baseball trade deadline last Friday, pitched six shutout innings in his debut outing to lead his new team to a 5-1 victory in the Blue Jays first series in Toronto in 22 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Blue Jays (54-48) swept the Kansas City Royals (45-59) and outscored their opponents 15-5 in the three-game set. Toronto has won four in a row and five of its last six and began the month of August 3 ½ games out in the American League wildcard race.
"They gave me a really nice welcome," Berrios said of his new teammates. "I'm comfortable here.
"I know there is a minimum for the crowd [15,000 fans], but you could still feel the support."
The Blue Jays sent prime prospects in infielder/outfielder Austin Martin and pitcher Simeon Woods-Richardson to the Minnesota Twins. Berrios had spent his entire professional career in the Twins organization before the trade.
"This was something new to me, the first time not with Minnesota," he said. "I think we gave each other confidence."
Berrios arrived at Rogers Centre around 8 p.m. on Saturday to meet with manager Charlie Montoya and pitching coach Pete Walker. Slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also was hanging around the Blue Jays clubhouse with his family when the newcomer arrived.
Berrios (8-5) revealed he drifted off to sleep around 9:30 p.m. His biggest challenge wearing No. 17 for his new team was overcoming a couple of extra days of rest between starts. He was scheduled to start for the Twins on Friday.
"What I was impressed with was he was relocating to a new team, a new country in a pandemic and dealt [with all the challenges]," Montoya said.
The crowd of 14,427 must have wondered what all the praise heaped on Berrios was true. He was hit hard early by the Royals, a familiar Central Division opponent of the Twins. Berrios yielded four singles in the nine batters he faced in the first two innings. But he found his groove in the third, fourth and fifth innings by throwing more breaking balls.
In the sixth, Berrios surrendered a one-out double to outfielder Andrew Benintendi and loaded the bases after hitting Hunter Dozier and Michael Taylor with two outs. But Berrios struck out Edward Olivares, the final batter he faced for the afternoon.
Berrios wound fanning seven Royals, hit three batters in his 95-pitch, 64-strike outing. He has pitched at least six innings in his last five starts and 10 of his past 11.
His new teammates provided the necessary run support in the third inning. First, red-hot George Springer knocked in catcher Reese McGuire with a double to right-centre field. Marcus Semien then smashed a two-run homer for his 25th of the year to become only the second Toronto second baseman to reach the single-season milestone.
Kansas City starter Brad Keller (7-10) left the game after three innings because of lower-back tightness.
Toronto third baseman Santiago Espinal slammed a solo shot in the fourth. The Blue Jays pushed home an additional run an inning later after four consecutive walks to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Cavan Biggio, Randal Grichuk and Espinal.
Guerrero Jr. was given the day off. With the arrival of Berrios and reliever Joakim Soria, also acquired before Friday's trade deadline, the Blue Jays optioned pitchers Thomas Hatch and Tayler Saucedo to Triple-A Buffalo on Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2021.