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Jays being 'doubted' is motivating Bichette

Bo Bichette Toronto Blue Jays Bo Bichette - The Canadian Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. — When your own expectations are sky-high internally like Bo Bichette’s have been since the day he arrived in the big leagues, external expectations aren’t likely to get to you much.

But two straight postseason failures and some heartbreak even prior to that have morphed the way the Toronto Blue Jays are viewed.

An off-season of roster building that didn’t satisfy fans or pundits, combined with those playoff Ls and quick exits, have left many generally down on this ball club as Grapefruit League games get set to ramp up Saturday.

Bichette has not only taken notice of that, but he also felt strongly enough to mention it publicly.

In his first chat of the spring with the media on Wednesday, he was quick to point out how things have changed over the years as the soon-to-be 26-year-old enters another new season.

“I think it’s the first time we’ve been doubted, for sure,” Bichette said. “We’ve always had high expectations, but it’s definitely a different mindset trying to prove people right than trying to prove people wrong. So, I think we’ll see what we’re capable of this year.

“The outside shouldn’t matter, although it does. I think we’d all be lying if we said we don’t see any of it or it doesn’t motivate us.”

Bichette definitely could’ve played down the narratives — the projections still see them as an upper-tier club with a legit chance — but after being a trendy World Series pick for a couple of years, they’ll definitely be more of an outside-the-box choice this time around.

“We’re just ready to do better,” Bichette said. “So, I’m excited.

“I think there’s guys that have pride in there and want to show people what we can do.”

Manager John Schneider is once again trying to find the right motivational tactics for a group that returns mostly intact, and the “nobody believes in us” narrative might be an easy one to latch onto for this group as the season gets underway with a tough stretch of scheduling that’s going to test them right away.

“We get it, for one,” Schneider said of being, as Bichette says, doubted. "I think it’s nice to have something to prove rather than proving people right. Yeah, it’s different, but maybe it’s the right way to go about it. The common theme has just been, ‘How are we going to win?’”

If the Jays are going to win, Bichette is absolutely going to have to be a huge part of it.

Maybe the biggest part.

Through July 31, he was slashing .321/.352/.494 with a 132 wRC+ and 17 homers.

Then scary knee and quad issues interrupted what could have been a career year and he slashed .254/.292/.402 with a wRC+ of 89 the rest of the way.

After missing 29 games, Bichette has one goal.

“I want to be the type of player that I was at the beginning for an entire season,” he said. “That starts with being healthy, but at the same time to bring my game to another level I have to be that consistent presence, day in and day out.”

In addition to tending to his right knee and quad over the winter, he changed up quite a bit of his physical routine, too.

“I did a lot of different things,” he said. "I took the most time I’ve ever taken off from baseball. I was still training and working to get in better shape. I incorporated Pilates, swimming, Muay Thai, as well. That was very fun. Those things helped a lot, but with the shape I’m in I feel like I’m in a good place to play every day.”

Outside the batter’s box, more and more is being asked of Bichette in a leadership role – whether that’s within the clubhouse or out at shortstop, where his glove is mostly a non-topic this spring coming off a plus-5 Defensive Runs Saved season, the best full-season mark of his career.

“He’s put himself in a really good spot physically to take his game to another level,” Schneider noted. “He’s improved every year defensively since he’s been here. The shortstop is kind of the quarterback of the infield and when people do depart you have to really grasp some of that leadership accountability and ownership of we’re doing every day. And he’s definitely done that.

“He’s always been quiet, but leadership comes in all different shapes and sizes, and I think he’s kind of fallen back on leading by example as what he does on the field. As you get older, as you get more comfortable with your teammates, I think, you see him a bit more vocal. He does it quietly still, but I think what we’re seeing now is not being afraid to speak up in front of the group and his voice definitely holds weight, that goes without saying.”

After running extremely hot and cold at times when it came to run scoring and stringing hits together last season, consistency is a word the Jays are using a lot this spring.

“I don’t think a lot of things went right,” Bichette said of 2023. “The pitching, obviously, was amazing. I think it kept us in it the whole season, and the defence, as well. But from an offensive standpoint, I just think we didn’t bring consistency. We have to be better with our competitiveness and preparation and day-to-day focus and all of that.”

Already their best hitter and most consistent offensive force, a career year from Bichette would go a long way in terms of solving their offensive woes from a year ago.

He looks ready to provide that solution.