Alejandro Kirk Earning Praise as Steadying Force for Blue Jays

With Danny Jansen injured, Alejandro Kirk has stepped up early in the season for the Toronto Blue Jays in a number of ways.

Alejandro Kirk of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a single in the top of the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum.
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - JULY 06: Alejandro Kirk #30 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a single in the top of the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum on July 06, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

TORONTO — Perhaps it was a bit ironic, and also apropos, that catcher Alejandro Kirk had arguably the best overall game of his season on the same night his backstop counterpart, Danny Jansen, was finally reinstated from the injured list.

Call it a burst of energy or the stars just aligning perfectly, but Jansen’s return to the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse not only provided a lift to the team as a whole on Monday but also seemingly to Kirk, the 25-year-old who was thrust into the role of primary catcher when Jansen was shelved by a fractured right wrist suffered in spring training.

As the Blue Jays opened a series against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, Kirk went 2-for-3 at the plate and drove in a run in Toronto’s 3-1 win. Included in Kirk’s night at the plate was his first extra-base hit of the season. Thanks to that double, manager John Schneider said the team now has one less thing to poke fun at Kirk about.

“He got an extra-base hit so we can stop laughing about that with him a little bit,” Schneider smiled.

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There were plenty of ways that Kirk showed up on Monday night outside of what he did at the plate. Behind it, he had the awareness to head toward the mound when starting pitcher Chris Bassitt was nearing a pitch clock violation.

He also threw out New York’s Trent Grisham attempting to steal in the fifth inning with a textbook throw that Cavan Biggio caught and applied to Grisham’s leg before he reached the base. Kirk then backed up first base on a throw from the Blue Jays outfield that sailed over the bag and could have ended up in the Yankees dugout if not for his heads-up play.

“The caught stealing is such a huge play to keep them where they are in the order, backing up on first base, making a mound visit when the clock was running down with (Anthony) Volpe at second,” Schneider said. “Just little things instinctually that he’s done, he’s really kind of grown too.”

It’s all part of the job for Kirk, an All-Star in 2022 who drew the start in 14 of Toronto’s first 17 games this season while Jansen was out.

“He did a great job,” Schneider said of Kirk’s start to the season. “It’s a tough ask really at that position, and I thought he handled it extremely well. I think having (Jansen) back will be good for both of them, using Jano a little bit and giving Kirky some time off his feet.”

“I think Kirk is happy Jansen’s back, too,” Bassitt said after Kirk guided him through 6.1 innings to earn the win against the Yankees. “What Kirky has done, I understand the offense was struggling, so to speak, but to play as many games as he did to start, that’s really tough for a catcher.

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“Catchers don’t usually plan for that in spring training, so I know he’s been wearing it. He will never say what he feels, that’s just Kirky … but I’m sure he’s tired.”

This season’s version of Kirk is a reminder that there is more to a player’s worth than just his slash line. An early line of .200/.293/.220 and OPS+ of 54 won’t turn many heads, but Kirk has helped keep the Blue Jays together during a March and April in which not only Jansen was missing, but key relievers Erik Swanson and Jordan Romano were absent with injuries as well.

With all three of those missing pieces back in the clubhouse, the Blue Jays active roster on Tuesday against the Yankees certainly looked more formidable than the one that began a nine-game homestand against Seattle on April 8.

With Jansen once again in the fold, Schneider expects the Blue Jays to go back to a catching schedule similar to last season when Kirk caught 775 innings and Jansen caught 576.2.

Jansen drew the start in his first game back on Tuesday with Yusei Kikuchi on the mound. Kirk will likely finish up the Yankees series with a matinee start on Wednesday. After that, expect Toronto’s one-two punch behind the plate to be in full force.

“There are certain guys we like to pair without having personal catchers, but I think once you get through Thursday (Toronto’s next off day) … and hit the weekend, it’ll be pretty evenly split,” Schneider said.

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That’s very likely not only fine with Kirk, but with Toronto’s hopes for the rest of the season as well.

All stats were updated prior to game time on Tuesday, April 16.