Bo Bichettes’ big hit leads Blue Jays over Pittsburgh Pirates


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PITTSBURGH — He’s already been a major league manager for more than a quarter of a season, but John Schneider is ready for more.

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Much more.

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He’s set for a big September that could almost guarantee the removal of the interim tag from his title. And ready to do what he has dreamed of since becoming a coach in the Blue Jays organization in 2008.

“It’s the best,” Schneider said ahead of Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Pirates. “That’s why you want to do this. That’s why I started coaching at (age) 28. You want to play meaningful games at the highest level with a group you enjoy being with.

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“There’s a lot of expectation and pressure that comes with it, but you have to accept it and be grateful to be a part of it.”

In Schneider’s case, he plays an increasingly important role in the fortunes of an inconsistent team looking to find a more reliable form.

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Now 43 games into his big league managerial career, his imprint is deeply embedded in a Jays team that has underperformed so far but still has aspirations in a momentous few months.

“He’s just a focused, hard-working guy,” said catcher Danny Jansen, who, like many of his teammates, played for Schneider many times in the organization’s minor league system. “I saw it with my own eyes for many years. He knows how players work. He has worked very hard for this and has an idea of ​​what is going on in the dugout and in the clubhouse.

Another of those longtime students, Bo Bichette was the hero here on Saturday as a scoring double in the seventh produced three runs. The win moved the Jays to 26-17 under their new manager and set up a potential series sweep of the Bucs on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.

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By all accounts, Schneider has made the transition from minor league manager to the majors as easily as one would expect since taking over after Charlie Montoyo was fired.

Although he knows most of the players – whether from their time in the farming system or as a staff member of Mntoyo the previous two seasons – the mission is definitely different.

It used to be to lead teenagers like Jansen, Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. through the minor leagues and into the show with the highest levels of preparation.

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“At lower levels like that, you not only mold guys as ballplayers but also as human beings, which he’s proud of,” Jansen said. “It’s something that’s definitely different at this level.”

Indeed, the stakes are now much higher and the requirements much more results-oriented.

“It’s pretty unique to (being told) you take over, the expectations are high and we expect to be in the playoffs,” Schneider said after being elevated to the manager’s chair on July 13. “I like it. I like to take matters into my own hands.

“You take calculated risks, but obviously the result is a bit more amplified here. You’re teaching in the minor league and trying to improve some skills. You still do that here, but with wins and losses as a bonus. That’s the biggest difference.

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As Jansen notes, dealing with a wide variety of alpha athletes has its challenges. But that’s part of the work Schneider says he thrives on.

“Personality management is something I really enjoy,” Schneider said. “So in changing roles, I had to be very conscious of continuing to value player relationships and not just putting their name on the roster card.

“Overall it’s about understanding that everything is amplified and you’re still trying to win that night rather than developing a player.”

Schneider has earned a reputation for being able to do both during his career and has been a valuable voice in the Jays’ development chain. He has led championship teams on farm stops in Dunedin, New Hampshire and Vancouver and has developed his own style which leans towards a more energetic approach.

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“He likes to be aggressive with the stuff in the game – calling the bunts and the safety cuts and the hit and run – but in (the clubhouse) he’s pretty laid back,” Bichette said. “In the dugout you can tell he cares a lot about winning, so you can see a bit of advantage and a bit of fire.

“He’s been with a lot of us for a long time and he’s always been good at feeling and understanding his players.”

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BO SHOW

It was another lean night for the Jays offense until Bichette opened things up with his hit in the seventh.

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Bichette, who hit a two-run homer Thursday on a three-hit night, is starting to warm up.

“I feel great…I’m coming back to myself,” Bichette said. “Just being aggressive because that’s who I am.”

Bichette’s big shot helped the Jays earn a second straight win over the Bucs and the visitors did it on an “opening” day. Trevor Richards got off to a strong start with two shutout innings before giving it up to a troubled Yusei Kikuchi, who gave the Jays 2.1 innings and allowed just one run.

Bichette’s brace was the culmination of a remarkable 10 shots at bat, showing what he can do at his measured best.

“It’s a testament to him and who he is as a competitor,” Schneider said. “He’s really, really good right now. It’s a big boost for us.

“We’re talking about an elite hitter with bat-to-ball skills that few people possess.”

Meanwhile, a scary situation for second baseman Santiago Espinal, who was hit in the hand by a fastball in the eighth inning and had to pile into the batter’s box. Precautionary X-rays came back negative, leaving Espinal with what the team described as a contusion on his left hand.

Yimi Garcia took the victory in relief and Jordan Romano pitched the ninth for his 29th save.

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