Where does Hyun Jin Ryu fit on the Blue Jays when he returns?

What is the best move to implement when Blue Jays' starter Hyun Jin Ryu comes off the IL shortly?
Cleveland Guardians v Toronto Blue Jays, Hyun Jin Ryu
Cleveland Guardians v Toronto Blue Jays, Hyun Jin Ryu / Mark Blinch/GettyImages
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After another strong showing by Toronto Blue Jays starter Hyun Jin Ryu in his recent rehab assignment, his return to the everyday lineup is imminent. With the Buffalo Bisons, Ryu pitched six strong innings of 3-hit, 2-run ball with five strikeouts and a full starting workload of 85 pitches for his pitch count.

Overall, in his four rehab starts, he has compiled a solid 2-0 record, with a 2.45 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, giving up four earned runs with one walk and 16 strikeouts in 18 innings of work, and most importantly, appears healthy and strong at the same time.

He is set to rejoin the team on Monday in their road trip to Los Angeles, at which point if he does indeed get reinstated from the IL, what are the plans for Ryu’s usage by the Jays? This could potentially be broken down into three intriguing options that the team can explore in the coming weeks.

Option #1

Since Ryu is coming off Tommy John surgery and hasn’t had a heavy workload for more than a year, they most likely won’t explore this option but it may be to the Jays’ best interest to ease him into the lineup by using Ryu out of the bullpen initially to build up his strength and stamina and not put him at risk with a starter’s workload right from the get-go. This way, Ryu could build on his confidence and momentum in the first few weeks, then become the strongest possible that he could be during the Jays’ stretch run.

The downfall to this option is that the Jays won’t know if Ryu could provide the rotational stability once he does get reinserted into the starting rotation, making their trade deadline plans a little more haphazard due to this unknown factor. Added to the fact he has been rehabbing with a starter’s workload, the Jays will most likely want to deploy him where he can be most effective.

Option #2

Ryu can be reinserted back into the rotation once he is activated, but have him being piggybacked by Alek Manoah in sharing together the fifth rotation spot. That way, Ryu can have an easy workload to start, going 3-4 innings with Manoah taking over afterwards, forming a strong duo to allow them to help each other build up their groove and confidence in pitching.

The problem with this setup is that Manoah may not prefer to be used in a middle relief/long man role and could have eventual adverse effects on both Ryu and Manoah as a result. Also, if Manoah has turned the corner and starts pitching effectively already in his couple of starts, it would make the move much tougher to implement. But if Manoah continues to struggle, this would definitely become an intriguing option to explore.

Option #3

This is perhaps the most viable, realistic, and likely option, in that the Jays should go with a six-man rotation for the coming weeks. This way, no one is left off the starting rotation roster and everyone would get ample rest to be at their best possible. It also makes the most sense, as the Jays will be enduring in a “17 games in 17 days” segment in their schedule starting at the end of this month. At the same time, the Jays will be able to assess what they have in Manoah and Ryu, and how their outcomes would affect their plans for the trade deadline directly.

No matter which option the Jays end up deciding on, they will definitely be looking forward to having back their 2020 AL Cy Young finalist at their disposal in their quest for the postseason. Hopefully, Ryu will be able to eventually regain his 2020 form over time and lead the Jays to success in the coming months.