MINNEAPOLIS — The Blue Jays brought in Whit Merrifield’s speed and versatility to give their depth a shot in the arm, which will be easier now that he has one in his.
Soon after joining his new club Thursday in Minneapolis, Merrifield said that he has received the COVID-19 vaccine and will be eligible to enter Canada following this road trip.
“For a couple of weeks now, I’ve understood that this might be a possibility. I’ll be in Toronto when the team goes there,” Merrifield said.
When the Royals travelled 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-U.S. border. This hasn’t been an issue for Toronto’s players, of course, because while the same rules apply to them 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’s happened has happened. I’m excited to be a Blue Jay, and I’m excited to get to Toronto and play at Rogers Centre.”
Merrifield has long been an everyday player for the Royals, playing all over the diamond, and interim manager John Schneider expects him to be in the lineup “most days.” He’s hit .300 and led the league in hits before, but he is batting .240 with a .643 OPS this season. Those numbers will need to improve first.
When Merrifield was traded, one of the first texts to pop up on his phone was from Zack Greinke. No, it didn’t say “congratulations” or “I’ll miss you.” It was a tweet showing Merrifield’s 2022 stats versus his expected numbers, with Greinke telling Merrifield that he’s a good player, even if the numbers haven’t shown that fully over the first 95 games.
Where you’ll notice Merrifield immediately, though, is on the bases.
“When you play against certain teams, from the outside, there’s certain teams that come in and you feel energy from them,” Merrifield said. “This is one of those teams. From top to bottom, it’s exciting baseball. I’m excited. I’m saying ‘excited’ a lot. I’m excited to be part of this team.”
Under Schneider, that energy has taken the form of extreme aggression on the bases. Players are running whenever possible, and sometimes when it doesn’t look possible. This doesn’t just mean stolen-base attempts, but trying to stretch singles into doubles and tagging up more often. The Blue Jays are bringing the game to opponents’ doorsteps, and the new guy loves it.
“I love running,” Merrifield said, grinning. “They love to run, so that’s right up my alley.”
Schneider was just as thrilled. When Merrifield isn’t starting a game, he’ll be the perfect option off the bench late in games.
“It fits him perfectly,” Schneider said. “We’ve talked about spots that he likes to run in and things he likes to do on the bases. It’s cool to talk about that type of stuff with a guy who really has a passion for it. He’s going to fit right in. He’s got the green light.”
Merrifield made his Blue Jays debut Thursday against the Twins, playing center field and batting eighth. His position and lineup spot will change most days, but now that the biggest question of all has been answered, Toronto can exhale and focus on the postseason race ahead.