Blue Jays: Hyun Jin Ryu will soon get what he needs to thrive

Jun 26, 2021; Buffalo, New York, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu (99) delivers pitch during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Sahlen Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2021; Buffalo, New York, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu (99) delivers pitch during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Sahlen Field. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

Hyun Jin Ryu hasn’t been quite as effective as usual for the Blue Jays lately, but fortunately the All-Star break should do a lot to get him back on track.

Heading into his last start of the first half schedule on Wednesday against the Orioles, so far Ryu has posted a 7-5 record with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.153 WHIP over 16 starts, covering 93.2 innings. Those are solid numbers for any starting pitcher, but when you consider that his ERA rose more than a full run in June then there’s more to the story.

The Korean-born hurler hasn’t been the same pitcher since the calendar flipped to June, and hopefully he’ll put that month behind him now that we’re into July. He started out by allowing seven earned runs against the Astros on June 4th, and then battled his way through six innings each against the White Sox and Yankees, allowing three runs in both of those outings. His last two starts of the month came against the Orioles, and while he was solid in the first by allowing just one earned run over 7.0 innings, he really battled in the second go-around, giving up four over 6.2.

To me, the eye test tells the story as much as anything, and it’s not hard to see that Ryu hasn’t been as sharp with location, or the quality of his pitches. Some fans might question if the timing has anything to do with the league office’s crackdown on sticky substances, but I don’t think that’s the case. In my mind the problem is quite simple, Ryu is starting to wear down a bit.

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We saw the same from the southpaw in 2020 when the Blue Jays elected to give him an extra day of rest before a few starts, and the strategy was fairly effective. Granted, last season was unique because of the stop and start spring/summer training, and the 60-game schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were many predictions that pitchers would struggle to stay healthy in 2021 when the league went back to a 162 game schedule, and that has been the case across much of the league, and obviously with the Blue Jays’ bullpen.

Fortunately Ryu has been able to stay healthy thus far, but I think we’re reaching the point in the year that he could benefit from an extra day of rest on occasion, or maybe even to skip a start to revitalize him a bit. Unfortunately the Jays just haven’t had the luxury of being able to do that this season, especially as the bullpen has struggled and they’ve tried to climb back into the playoff race. Ryu is their ace, and they’ve had to ask him to be a regular presence on the mound, and even to pitch deeper into games.

The good news is that the All-Star will afford him an extended rest, and I’m interested to see how he looks coming off of the break. He’s scheduled to start on Wednesday the 7th, and the earliest he could return to the mound would be on the 16th against the Rangers, which is the Jays’ first game back. Charlie Montoyo could choose to rest him longer than that depending on how they line up their rotation coming out of the break, and there’s an argument for taking their time getting Ryu back on the mound.

With the Blue Jays being 9.0 games back of the Red Sox for the division lead, and 4.5 of the Rays for the top of the Wild Card standings, they’re going to need quality innings from their best starting pitcher. In an ideal world the Jays would be able to acquire another high-end starter to add to the rotation, and maybe then they could rest Ryu again in August sometime to keep him fresh for the stretch run. He threw 192.0 innings during his rookie season in 2013, but otherwise he’s only topped 180 one other time, which was in 2019 with 182.2 frames when he finished second in Cy Young award voting.

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While his recent trends have been a little bit concerning, I’m not terribly worried about it at this point. If we get to the end of July and Ryu hasn’t righted himself, then I’ll join those of you that are losing sleep over it. For now, I fully expect the All-Star break to give him the rest he needs, and he’ll soon be back to painting corners.