Blue Jays’ Ryu ends outstanding year with slow speed and frustration


TORONTO – If there was a time where a little extra movement and speed would make a difference, it would be in a game like this: must-win, season on the line, ace on the mound. With that in mind, the Toronto Blue Jays have organized their post-season rotation quite surprisingly. Matt Shoemaker would start Game 1, allowing staff ace Hyun Jin Ryu to kick off Game 2 on extra rest.

But soon after Ryu stepped onto the mound at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night, it was obvious he didn’t have his best deals, extra day off or not. By the end of the second inning, the left-hander was in the dugout, out of a game that was already out of reach for a Blue Jays team heading for postseason elimination. With that, his formidable 2020 season ended in a frustrating way.

“They were getting responses from all of my pitches,” Ryu said afterwards through an interpreter. “I just didn’t have a good game.”

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While never overwhelming terrain, Ryu’s fastball benefits from increased speed. In the Blue Jays’ decisive victory over the Yankees last week, Ryu topped 90 mph with 15 shots en route to one of his best starts of the year. Facing the rays on Wednesday, it only hit 90 mph once.

Not only that, the Rays’ two biggest hits have come on terrains that benefit from increased velocity. Mike Zunino hit an 88 mph four-seam fastball for a second inning homer, and Hunter Renfroe’s grand slam came on an 85 mph cutter later in the same frame. There’s no question that movement and location matter as well, but at the very least, a drop in speed reduced Ryu’s margin for error.

This isn’t the first time Ryu has thrown with reduced speed, and if anyone succeeds without a blazing fastball, it’s him, but he has topped 90 mph at least three times in each of his 12 starts in regular season. Reaching this threshold just once is remarkable and potentially worrying.

After Ryu’s last regular season start, he felt “a little sore,” according to manager Charlie Montoyo, but the Blue Jays later said there was no injury involved. So , now that the season is over and there is no competitive advantage to be gained by playing down those concerns, was Ryu’s drop in speed related to health?

” No. They just did a good job against him, but he was fine, ”Montoyo said. “There was nothing we knew. If we knew something, of course he wouldn’t present. But no. They did a good job. Their approach was exceptional.

“I felt great physically, but I noticed my bike had gone down, especially my fast pitch,” added Ryu. “But I think the mistakes hurt me more than the bike itself. In the first inning they were receiving all the hits from all of my secondary throws which made the game extremely difficult for me.

From behind the field, wide receiver Danny Jansen said he didn’t see a major difference in Ryu’s business compared to usual. To some extent, the Rays’ hitters deserve credit.

“They just took advantage of a few early shots,” said Jansen, whose two home runs were the only bright spots for the Blue Jays in their 8-2 loss. “They were aggressive and jumped on him and the Grand Slam and it all happened quickly. We prepared like any other game, we took our time, we did what we wanted.

Already this month, we’ve seen Ryu’s speed fluctuate from start to finish. He hit the 90 mph threshold just three times against the Yankees on Sept. 7 before surpassing 90 mph 20 times six days later against the Mets. He started well after that, a loss to the Phillies, but his speed was down again. Still, his business was certainly back in the deciding game against the Yankees.

With these fluctuations in mind, it’s easier to see this as a poorly timed clunker rather than a truly alarming sign.

“Days like today are coming,” said shortstop Bo Bichette, whose two mistakes kept Ryu on the mound longer than necessary. “He’s our guy. We went out looking for him for a reason. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do this year and it’s a shame for him that it happened today that he had a tough outing, but we all believe in him 100%.

There is certainly plenty of reason to believe in Ryu after a season in which he posted a 2.69 ERA with 72 strikeouts against just 17 steps in 67 innings leading the team. Those numbers are good enough to win down Cy Young votes, and more importantly, they establish Ryu as the staff ace the Blue Jays wanted when they signed him for $ 80 million over four years. .

Now it’s a question of resting and building on that success in 2021.

“I don’t want the last two games to mar all the hard work and all the hardships we’ve been through as a team during the regular season,” Ryu said. “We didn’t necessarily have a place to live, Buffalo was a home stadium for us, but it felt more like we were on the road all season long… Making the playoffs was awesome. The last two games didn’t go the way we wanted, but I think throughout the season we’ve done a great job as a group to overcome these difficulties.


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