Jays GM Atkins says manager Schneider made decision to pull Berrios from Game 2

By Tim Wharnsby in Toronto

John Schneider will return to manage the Toronto Blue Jays next season, even though general manager Ross Atkins revealed it was Schneider’s decision to remove starter Jose Berrios in the game that abruptly ended the underachieving team’s season last Wednesday.

Atkins held his post-mortem press conference on Saturday morning of Thanksgiving Weekend, three days after the Blue Jays suffered a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins to be swept two games to none in the American League Wild-Card series.

After the Blue Jays’ seventh straight post-season loss, there was heavy criticism heaped upon Schneider for removing the righty Berrious after 47 pitches and three shutout innings in favour of lefty Yusei Kikuchi.

There was speculation the front office and its analytics department drew up the game plan to pressure the Twins into employing some right-handed batters earlier than they would have liked to.

This would have enabled the Blue Jays to use their effective right-handed relievers Yimi Garcia, Erik Swanson, Jordan Hicks and Jordan Romano, in mid-to-late inning situations.

Atkins denied any influence from the front office on Schneider and his coaching staff’s decision.

“I found out about it when you did,” Atkins said. “When [Kikuchi] was getting warm in the first inning, it was very clear that we had a strategy to potentially deploy. John Schneider made the decision to deploy that.

“There was not an influence from the office that factored into that, other than maybe it was an organizational strategy communicated to players. When I say organization, I’m including players, many players over the course of the days prior to that strategy.”

Atkins disclosed Schneider and his coaches, along with advanced scout Theron Simpson, are the individuals involved in a pre-game assembly to devise the game plan.

The Toronto general manager also remarked the early-game pitching decision, which resulted in a two-run fourth inning for the home side, was not the problem in the season-ending game. A lack of timely hitting prevented the Blue Jays from advancing.

Atkins said, “If we started the game and someone said, ‘You’re only going to allow two runs today,’ I would have said, ‘That’s a decent outcome. We have a very good chance to win.'”

Atkins praised the work and decision-making of Schneider, bench coach Don Mattingly, pitching coach Pete Walker as well as assistant pitching coaches Jeff Ware and David Howell.

Atkins did not mention hitting coach Guillermo Martinez. The Toronto general manager and Schneider will examine the coaching staff in meetings next week.

The Blue Jays, with the first stage of the Rogers Centre renovation completed, topped the three-million mark in attendance for the eighth time in franchise history and the first time since 2017.

But Toronto finished the regular season at 89-73, losing four of the final six games of their season-concluding homestand. They disappointed their fan base for the second straight season, swiftly ousted in two consecutive games in the wild-card round.

“This is extremely painful for me,” Atkins said. “This has been one of the most frustrating times in my career. Walking into that clubhouse yesterday, the smell of stale champagne was not good for me.”

Looking ahead to next season, Atkins stated his focus will be improving the Blue Jays offence by enhancing the production of the remaining players and adding to the roster through free agency.

Atkins also hopes the team’s baserunning improves after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was picked off at second base in Game 2 and Bo Bichette was thrown out at home in the series opener.

He also had confidence pitcher Alek Manoah would return to form and rejoin the rotation in 2024 after his abysmal 2023 that saw the former Cy Young contender dropped from the roster in the middle of the season and again for the final six weeks.

Atkins intimated the Blue Jays likely will lose veterans Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Belt to free agency. He left the door open to re-signing 36-year-old pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Atkins did not mention Whit Merrifield, Chad Green and Jordan Hicks. .

Hicks is a free agent, while the Blue Jays have a club option with Green and a mutual option with Whitfield for another season at $18 million US. The player and team would have to agree to exercise the option mutually.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2023.

Banner image via The Canadian Press