Last year was a strange way for Hyun Jin Ryu to start his career with the Blue Jays, and even if it still went well, it’ll be great to have a normal spring to prepare.
That wasn’t the case in 2020, when MLB spring training came to an abrupt halt in March of last year at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until July that teams got back on the field for “summer camp”, and the season was shrunk down to 60 games. It was a successful shortened schedule for the Blue Jays, but it still wasn’t ideal.
For Ryu, this time around should be a lot more comfortable, and so far his spring results have been terrific. It’s not as if there any major issues last season, but at times it felt like the ace left-hander wasn’t quite in the rhythm he was looking for, especially over his first handful of starts. While he found that rhythm a few starts in and pitched well enough to earn a Cy Young award nomination, I was a little concerned about him near the end of the regular season schedule.
That sounds silly to say considering how well he pitched down the stretch and how crucial he was to the Blue Jays qualifying for the postseason. That said, you might remember that he was twice given an extra off day between starts in September, which ultimately worked out just fine. However, after just 12 starts in a normal schedule Ryu should just be hitting his mid-season stride, not starting to tire out.
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To be fair to the soon to be 34-year-old, last summer didn’t allow for typical preparation at all, both with a shortened camp, and all of the uncertainty that came with last spring. It was a complicated one for Ryu in particular, as he ended up being somewhat stranded in Dunedin when most of his teammates went home at the beginning of the pandemic, and his wife was in the late stages of pregnancy. To his credit, he managed all of that and still had an excellent first year with the Blue Jays.
Which brings us to the present, and thankfully this time around Ryu is preparing under the proper timelines and conditions. I don’t know that we should expect that to lead to even better results, as he was already pretty stellar last year, but hopefully it’ll help the South Korea maintain his stamina over the course of a full regular season schedule, and into the playoffs.
The Blue Jays do have plenty of depth to give him an occasional rest this year if the need arises, but hopefully with a regular routine then Ryu will be able to take the ball every fifth day. With all due respect to the rest of the rotation, they’re going to need him to.