Blue Jays’ Ryu overcomes nerves and makes a strong first impression

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TORONTO – Hyun-Jin Ryu has spent his entire career playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a hugely successful MLB franchise that has made it through seven straight seasons after the season, so keep that in mind here. But it’s not for nothing that Ryu’s side have won 20 of the 29 games they started last season. And 10 of 15 the previous season.

That’s a .682 clip in all, good for a 110-win season under normal circumstances, or a 41-win season in this weird fanless MLB world we live in temporarily. Of course, extrapolating is a crazy exercise and no team will ever have a fully compromised Ryu rotation. But it’s pretty good to have at least one.

“You need guys like that. That’s how you win in the big leagues, ”Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Friday afternoon, holding a Zoom media availability while wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. “Because Ryu is pitching today, we know we have a chance to win.

“You can see it on the good teams in the big leagues. The teams that advance to the playoffs all have two, three, four good starters. This is how you never lose streak. You still have the chance to win every day. This is where we want to be. And Ryu is one of those guys.

Now three or four front row starters is a luxury the Blue Jays don’t have. But Ryu gives them one, and the results so far speak for themselves, as Toronto won its first game of the season Friday night, 6-4, against the Tampa Bay Rays.

If Ryu doesn’t miss a lap in Toronto’s rotation, he’ll make 11 more starts, and maybe one or two more if the Blue Jays can get creative and use days off to keep him on a schedule. five days. That’s at least 20% of that shortened season, and every win he helps the Blue Jays achieve this year is equivalent to 2.7 wins in a normal season. There is the potential here for Ryu to have a huge impact on the chances of this club, especially now that eight clubs in the American League will advance to the playoffs.

All this to say that there is a lot to do with him. And it looks like he feels it. Ryu called Friday’s departure “stressful on the nerves” and described the sensation he experienced on the mound as “like I’m floating in the air”. You don’t hear that everyday from a guy with 125 starts – career ERA a bubbly 2.98 – on his FanGraphs page.

“That’s what this game does to you,” Montoyo said. “Everyone wants to do well.”

By his own estimate, Ryu didn’t live up to his standards, but he was certainly good enough, holding a very good Rays roster in 4.2 innings while the Toronto offense worked in support. He didn’t have his best fastball control and said he couldn’t find his normal balance on the mound early on. Not that the results show this struggle.

Ryu went three up, three down on 10 throws in the first; three up, three down on 12 in the second. He allowed a brace and a walk in the third, but proceeded to locate ridiculous changes to Hunter Renfroe with those two on and two out, getting two calls called and one swinging at the knee to escape the mini-jam.

A cross race in the fourth, when Manuel Margot reached a forced withdrawal before Mike Brosseau descended below his knees to drive a lead well located on the wall in the center right. And the Rays extended Ryu from there, as Willy Adames walked six lengths. But then Ryu gave Kevin Kiermaier adjustments, locating five consecutive shots on the outside edge of the strike zone until he got the swing-and-miss he was looking for.

As he does. Ryu’s best weapon is his control – his ability to locate five different locations for strikes on the edges of the area. Pitching up-and-down, side-to-side. Shifting, mixing and matching, selecting corners. Sequencing and variability is everything for Ryu, as he uses unpredictable paws to keep hitters off balance and guessing. And with a consistent mix of four seams, sinkers, changeups, sliders and curved balls, he was doing just that.

But what was odd about the outing were the three steps of a guy who walked just 24 of 182.2 innings last season. And that caught up with him in the fifth, when he lost Hunter Renfroe with a full two-out count change that missed by a mile.

Ryu went 3-2 to the next hitter, Yoshi Tsutsugo, too. And the next pitch was his worst of the night – an 89 mph fastball, over home plate, which Tsutsugo placed in the left-field seats. Two shots and a brace from Jose Martinez later, Ryu’s night was over.

“My change improved as the game progressed, which I was happy with. My fastpitch order just wasn’t there, ”he says. “It was so easy to tell it was a bullet coming out of my hand. So it’s something that I absolutely have to work on and improve on to move on to the next game. ”

Ryu managed to crank up his side tricks in the fifth, but seemed to lose some efficiency in that final round, eventually wearing himself out under the pressure of a few pesky plate appearances from Rays. And that’s understandable. It’s the first game of the season after a rushed three-week training camp, after all. While the starting Toronto staff are in pretty good shape from a workload standpoint, they’ll all be on the pitch on that first trip of the rotation, and the late fade we’ve seen from Ryu. is the reason.

Still, he threw 97 pitches – 54 for strikes – and reached out for the odd 92 mph heater, which is as hard as he’ll throw it. It’s encouraging and sets him up to go over 100 shots on his next outing – provided all goes well – as he did nine times last season. He was only supposed to throw around 85 on Friday. But Montoyo clearly wanted to give him every chance to win this final in his fifth round. And when the Blue Jays manager finally took the step, Ryu was not giving up the ball easily.

“He didn’t want to go out. That’s what I like about this guy, ”Montoyo said. “I knew Ryu was like that. I’ve heard from the Dodgers that he’s like that – which I love. It’s beautiful. But I knew he had too many pitches and I had to make this move.

Something to build on, sure. But a result familiar to those he’s helped produce so many times in seven seasons in Los Angeles – a team victory. For a year where each game is worth two and a half times what it normally is, it helps a guy like Ryu play once every five, giving you a shot.

“Honestly, I think I was the weakest link in today’s game,” he said. “So as long as I pick up my pace and everyone else does what they did today, I think everything will be fine moving forward.



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