Blue Jays’ Ryu Hyun-jin flips script, finds groove vs. Mets

September 14, 2020

Opponents’ scouting report on Ryu Hyun-jin may say the Toronto Blue Jays’ left-hander is mostly a changeup pitcher. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but that wouldn’t necessarily prepare them for Ryu’s ability to make in-game adjustments and flip the script on hitters.

Ryu picked up his fourth win of the season against the New York Mets at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, on Sunday (local time). He gave up eight hits, just one shy of his season high, but limited the damage to one run over six innings. Ryu struck out seven and walked none, as the Blue Jays took the game 7-3.

Ryu had been relying on his changeup about 30 percent of the time prior to this outing. With his four-seam fastball velocity and command not up to par in last week’s start against the New York Yankees, Ryu used his changeup to get himself out of trouble.

Against the Mets, Ryu only used his changeup 17 percent of the time — 16 out of his 92 pitches. After getting away from his fastball last week, Ryu threw it 38 percent of the time against the Mets. He also mixed in cutter, curveball and sinker.

Ryu offered five changeups in the first inning but gave up two singles with that pitch without inducing and swing-and-misses. The Mets scored their only run off Ryu in the first inning, too.

Ryu didn’t throw any changeup over the next two frames, instead going with his four-seamer and cutter to keep pitching out of early trouble.

Ryu struck out the side in the fourth in vintage Ryu fashion — with three different pitches. Pete Alonso fanned on a changeup, Brandon Nimmo looked at an inside fastball, and Robinson Chirinos swung and missed on a high cutter.

Ryu pitched clean innings in the fifth and sixth and threw only one changeup in each of those frames.

The veteran said he can change his game plan on the fly as necessary, and Sunday’s game was no exception.

“After giving up a run in the first, I decided to change my pitch sequence, and it worked to a great effect,” Ryu said in his postgame Zoom session. “I allowed a couple of hits with the changeup in the first inning, and then I started going to my fastball and cutter to keep hitters off balance. That way, I was able to go six innings.”

Seven of the Mets’ eight hits against Ryu were singles, and some were softly hit balls that managed to find holes through the infield.

“I didn’t give up hard contact, so I managed to minimize the damage after those early hits,” Ryu said. “If I had allowed more hits with runners on, this would have been a difficult outing.”

By taking two out of three against the Mets, the Blue Jays remained in second place in the American League (AL) East at 26-20, half a game ahead of the Yankees.

Under the expanded format this year, the top two clubs from each of the six divisions, plus the next two best teams from each league, will qualify for the postseason. Either as one of the top two in the competitive AL East or as a Wild Card entry, the Blue Jays look poised to advance to their first postseason since 2016.

The Blue Jays are 8-2 in Ryu’s 10 starts this season. With a 4-1 record and a 3.00 ERA, Ryu has come as advertised, serving as the bona fide No. 1 starter for an emerging club that needed stability in the rotation to contend.

“We’re all pushing each other this season, and we don’t rely on one particular player,” Ryu said. “Our young players have been performing well. They’re really demonstrating their talent on the field and at the plate.”

In this truncated, 60-game season, the Blue Jays have 14 games remaining, with Ryu expected to get two more starts and, should they qualify, pitch in the opening game of the playoffs.

“As always, I’ll focus on my command over the next two starts,” Ryu said. “I will do my best to help the team win both of those games.”