MINNEAPOLIS — The Blue Jays called on the speed and versatility of Whit Merrifield to give their depth a shot in the arm, which will be easier now that he has one in his.
Shortly after joining his new club Thursday in Minneapolis, Merrifield said he had received the COVID-19 vaccine and would be eligible to enter Canada after the road trip.
“A few weeks ago, I understood that this could be a possibility. I will be in Toronto when the team travels there,” Merrifield said.
When the Royals traveled to Toronto from June 14-17, Merrifield was one of 10 unvaccinated players left behind. That’s why his acquisition by the Blue Jays on Tuesday caught so many off guard, given the vaccine requirements to cross the Canada-US border. That wasn’t a problem for the Toronto players, of course, because even though the same rules apply when entering the United States, they’ve all been vaccinated.
“It was something that I probably could have handled a little better,” Merrifield said, “but what happened happened. I’m excited to be a Blue Jay, and I’m excited to be coming in Toronto and play at the Rogers Centre.
Merrifield has long been an everyday player for the Royals, playing all over the pitch, and caretaker manager John Schneider expects him to be in the line-up “most days”. He’s batted .300 and led the league in hits before, but he’s batting .240 with a .643 OPS this season Those numbers will have to improve first.
When Merrifield was traded, one of the first text messages to appear on his phone was from Zack Greinke. No, he didn’t say “congratulations” or “I’m going to miss you”. It was a tweet showing Merrifield’s stats in 2022 compared to his expected numbers, with Greinke telling Merrifield he’s a good player, even though the numbers haven’t fully shown that in the first 95 games.
Where you’ll notice Merrifield immediately, though, is on the basics.
“When you play against certain teams, from the outside, there are certain teams that come in and you feel energy from them,” Merrifield said. “This is one of those teams. Top to bottom, it’s exciting baseball. I’m excited. I say ‘excited’ a lot. I’m thrilled to be on this team.
Under Schneider, this energy took the form of extreme aggression on the bases. Players run whenever possible, and sometimes when it doesn’t seem possible. That doesn’t just mean volley base attempts, but trying to stretch singles into doubles and score more often. The Blue Jays bring the game to their opponents’ doorsteps, and the new guy loves it.
“I love running,” Merrifield said with a smile. “They love to race, so that’s exactly what I want.”
Schneider was equally thrilled. When Merrifield isn’t starting a game, he’ll be the perfect option on the bench late in the game.
“It suits him perfectly,” Schneider said. “We talked about where he likes to run and the things he likes to do on the bases. It’s cool to talk about this stuff with a guy who really has a passion for it. It will fit perfectly. He has the green light.
Merrifield made his Blue Jays debut Thursday against the Twins, playing center and batting eighth. Its position and place in the lineup will change most days, but now that the bigger question has been answered, Toronto can time out and focus on the playoff race ahead.