Blue Jays: Is Hyun Jin Ryu’s rough start to the season cause for concern?

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 16: Hyun Jin Ryu #99 of the Toronto Blue Jays walks off the mound in the first inning during their MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at the Rogers Centre on April 16, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 16: Hyun Jin Ryu #99 of the Toronto Blue Jays walks off the mound in the first inning during their MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at the Rogers Centre on April 16, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

In a season where many predict the Toronto Blue Jays to be World Series favourites, the club has seen a few hiccups early in the campaign that have them sitting at a 5-4 record and tied for first place in American League East. While this doesn’t seem like an issue so early into the season, some of these wins have come in the form of come-from-behind victories where the starting pitching has been unable to pitch deep into ballgames and got lit up early and often.

One of the pitchers struggling to begin this season is southpaw Hyun Jin Ryu, the Blue Jays’ premier free agent signing back in 2019/2020 offseason that saw the South Korean product ink a four-year deal worth $80 million. While his first season with Toronto during the shortened 2020 campaign was fantastic, his 2021 campaign was a step back that saw him pitch to a 4.37 ERA through 31 starts while battling multiple IL stints throughout the year.

Entering this season no longer the Blue Jays’ top arm, Ryu is the third starter in the rotation following Jose Berrios and Kevin Gausman, and the early results are not trending in the right direction.

Blue Jays LHP Hyun Jin Ryu has struggled early in the campaign and is now heading for an MRI, bringing into question what his role may be moving forward.

Through two starts, Ryu has allowed 11 earned runs through 7.1 innings of work, giving up two home runs and 11 hits while striking out five batters. His first start against the Texas Rangers was trending well until the fourth inning and the bottom of the Rangers lineup started to generate some hits and eventually ended with him being pulled after amassing only one out. Fast forward to yesterday’s game against the Oakland Athletics and Ryu was struggling to locate his pitches early, which for a softer throwing pitcher of his calibre, can lead to a batting practice session for the other team. To make matters worse was that umpire Jeff Nelson forgot how big home plate was and that didn’t help his cause, eventually leading to Ryu being pulled after four innings even though he came into the game with an extra day’s rest.

Ryu’s arsenal isn’t going to light up the radar but when he is able to locate his pitches and use his offspeed curveball to put batters away, he can be downright untouchable. While he isn’t necessarily walking opposing batters with the missed locations, he’s also not fooling them, which is why he sits in the 11th percentile on Whiff percentage and the bottom 2% in terms of opposing exit velocity at 114 MPH. All of his pitching parameters currently sit below the 40th percentile compared to other Major League pitchers.

To make matters even more difficult is that Ryu apparently left yesterday’s game with left forearm soreness and is scheduled to get an MRI later today. That could explain why he was having trouble locating his pitches against the A’s and leaving some balls over the heart of the plate. One thing to take into consideration is the shortened Spring Training, which could have impacted his ability to be ready for the season and may be the reason behind this forearm soreness after only two starts.

Whatever the outcome is of the MRI, while I wouldn’t say it is necessarily time to panic in regards to his future with the club (he is not going to be DFA’d any time soon), it is something to keep watch of as the season moves forward.

Maybe he spends some time on the IL to rehab and refocus or maybe he spends a week or two as the long-man in the bullpen and tweaks some mechanics. With the season only nine games old, manager Charlie Montoyo could also choose to keep putting him out there and let the veteran try and sort himself out, but the risk would be losses that come back to haunt the club, similar to the one win short 2021 campaign in an AL East division that is very unforgiving.

With the Blue Jays about to enter a tough stretch in the schedule that will see them face the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros twice over the next two weeks (both at home and on the road) before the Yankees come to town, it will be interesting to see what the prognosis is on Ryu and what the Jays plan to do given his rough start to the season.

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Ross Stripling would most likely move to the rotation if the left-hander does end up on the IL while a healthy diagnosis might bring up some tough decisions in the near future if he continues to struggle on the mound and is unable to can return to his 2020 form.