Opinion | Jays outfielder Daulton Varsho looks for a ‘simpler’ solution to his struggles with the bat
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.—If Daulton Varsho wants to twist the knife in his own gut, he can cast his eyes across to the Arizona Diamondbacks and check out how a particular pair of ballplayers are faring.
He claims to have done no such thing and has zero interest in the circumstances of Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the latter-day Blue Jays who were dispatched to Arizona just before Christmas in exchange for Varsho’s services in one of the more eye-popping off-season trades.
So presumably Varsho is unaware Moreno — Toronto’s uncut catching jewel, their No. 1 prospect as per Baseball America just a few heartbeats ago — was hitting .309 and had thrown out 11 of the 22 base runners who had tried to steal on him. Or that Gurriel is driving the Diamondbacks offence, hitting .319 with eight home runs. Although, if he were paying attention to social media — and we’d strongly advise against it — Varsho would recognize that a whole lot of Maypole cranks are lamenting that winter swap, even proffering it as the worst trade ever by GM Ross Atkins. Gurriel is going to be a free agent next year, so his departure doesn’t cut deep. But Moreno. Sheesh. Wrong Toronto catcher to put on a rail out of town. More likely, his inclusion was at the heart of the deal for the Snakes.
And maybe the perspective will change down the road. Varsho certainly came shot out of the chute, not just for his sterling defence either, since going in all-D and preventing runs was the brain trust’s mantra as the Jays roster was significantly shape-shifted. The bullet-headed 26-year-old built like a brick you-know-what has come somewhat as advertised: an aggressive and speedy base runner (six stolen bases), a bunter extraordinaire and defensively splendiferous afield.
But, bottom line, as the Jays cracked open the third of four games at The Trop, with hail pounding loudly on the concrete carapace lid and the visitors looking for at least a reasonable fraction of the 27 hits they had pounded out 24 hours earlier — except the only lightning striking twice was overhead, outside, as the Rays atoned with a 7-3 win — is that Varsho was an anemic .211 at the plate, with a .652 OPS, dropped to seventh in the batting order after a puzzlingly lengthy tenure hitting cleanup, when he so clearly isn’t a cleanup hitter.
Varsho doesn’t need anybody to tell him he’s in a hitting funk, even deeper than the teamwide trench that was finally breached in Tuesday’s bonkers 20-1 Toronto win. Tropicana Field had actually been rather kind to Varsho thus far in the Jays set-to with the MLB-leading Rays. He cranked a monster 446-foot bomb on Monday. But between that home run and his prior one, he had gone 3-for-32 at the dish.
So, sure, a lot of fans are pining for Moreno and Gurriel.
“We’re all trying to get that big hit when we need,” Varsho said before Wednesday’s game, ducking behind the collective offensive slurry rather than focusing on the singular. (In any event, that dry spell, especially with runners in scoring position, seems to have passed. The sky’s not falling anymore. “Everyone can take a deep breath,” manager John Schneider observed earlier in the afternoon, doing that very thing.)
“As a team, we’ve all been doing that but just getting unlucky and it’s been going right at people,” Varsho said.
It did go south quickly for him, though, maybe because pitchers had hastily taken the measure of Varsho’s swing and adjusted. “I think it was more about me. I was trying to do too much. Tried to get back to a simpler approach, instead of pressing, just hitting the ball hard and seeing where it goes. That’s my goal right now.”
He has hit seven home runs, so the power is still there. “I agree. But when you try to create power, you create a longer swing and you end up fouling off a lot of pitches. When you’re able to put the ball in play, usually good things happen — eliminating the strikeouts, eliminating the big swings, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
He makes a further case for himself, in the dearth of hits.
“You can play great defence, you can run the bases really well, you can be a great teammate. There’s a lot of good things you can do even when you’re not hitting well.”
Schneider doesn’t seem particularly troubled by Varsho’s hitting problems. The sublime defence compensates for it, and there is the threat Varsho poses on the bases, when he gets on base. “We acquired him for a reason,’’ the manager said. “Not just for this year but beyond, and we believe wholeheartedly in him and his skill set. It’s still really early in the season.’’
Next person who says “it’s really early in the season” is going to get a punch in the nose.
Whether he directly addresses the elephant in the room or not, Varsho is cognizant that for many he represents a trade most rued, the deal wished undone. The Jays gave so very much away.
“There’s always pressure when you go to a new team,” Varsho conceded. “You want to show everybody that you belong and you want to do well. That pressure comes with trying to do too much, which I was doing. You’ve got to be who you are. Being Daulton, getting on base and allowing my legs to help run the base and playing really great defence.”
Being Daulton. Even when baseball is turning your head, your soul, inside-out.
“If you can keep a level head and understand that this game can be very humbling at times, it’s going to be fine.”
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