Blue Jays’ Ryu Hyun-jin keeps hot-hitting club at bay with wide repertoire

August 18, 2020

Facing one of the top hitting clubs in the American League (AL) didn’t faze Ryu Hyun-jin. It only brought out the best in the South Korean starter.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ ace limited the Baltimore Orioles to a run over four hits in six strong innings Monday (local time), in which he struck out three and didn’t walk anyone. The Jays won the game 7-2.

In typical Ryu fashion, 13 of the 18 outs came via groundballs. None of the 18 outs even left the infield.

The Orioles entered this contest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore ranked first in the AL in hits (194), second in batting average (.259) and second in slugging percentage (.456).

But against Ryu’s repertoire of five types of pitches, the Orioles mustered just one extra-base hit — a fourth-inning double by Anthony Santander — and grounded into two double plays.

Ryu made 86 pitches — 22 fastballs, 22 changeups, 18 cutters, 18 sinkers and six curveballs.

Ryu was in his element right from the first inning. He retired the side with three groundouts on three different pitches: sinkers, curves and changeups.

In the second inning, Ryu used two cutters to get two groundouts and another one in the third.

In the fourth, the inning-ending double play ball came via a changeup.

And for his second double play of the game in the sixth inning, Ryu threw a sinker to Santander, who had two hits in two previous at-bats against the South Korean pitcher.

Though Ryu allowed a run in the fourth, there wasn’t really any moment during the game when he was laboring.

“I had a good command of all of my pitches, and I was able to keep hitters off balance,” Ryu said in his postgame Zoom media session. “I didn’t get a lot of whiffs like the last time, but I still had a pretty efficient game.”

Also on an encouraging development, Ryu didn’t walk anyone for the first time in five starts this season.

In one of the most bizarre stats in all of baseball this year, Ryu had issued nine walks in his first 20 innings. He only gave up 24 free passes in 182 2/3 innings last year, leading the majors with 1.2 walks per nine innings. Ryu didn’t reach walk No. 20 until his 17th start of that season.

He went to a three-ball count five times and ended up getting three groundouts, along with a double and a single.

Against the 20 batters that he faced, Ryu threw a first-pitch ball only five times.

Ryu admitted after the game he was conscious of the atypically high number of walks he’d given up in earlier games.

“I didn’t have great command in some of the earlier starts, and I was thinking about the walk total coming into this game,” Ryu said. “But I probably shouldn’t have left a pitch in the middle on a 3-0 count against a cleanup hitter (Pedro Severino on a run-scoring double in the fourth inning).”

All three strikeouts came via fastballs. Ryu will never be mistaken for a fireballer — he entered this game averaging 89.8 mph with his four-seamer — but he sets up that pitch as well as anybody by offering offspeed or breaking pitches earlier in the count.

In the third inning, Andrew Velazquez and Hanser Alberto struck out looking at a fastball after getting a sinker, cutter, curve and changeup earlier in the count. Alberto struck out for the second time in the sixth, when he swung and missed on a high fastball at a 1-2 count.

Ryu was charged with eight earned runs over his first two starts covering nine innings, but in his past three starts, Ryu has been the kind of pitcher the Blue Jays were hoping they’d be getting with a four-year, US$80 million contract handed out last December.

Over those three starts, spanning 17 innings, Ryu has given up just two earned runs on seven hits, while striking out 18.

“I think I’ve gotten stronger as the season has progressed, compared to the first couple of starts,” Ryu said. “As a starter, I am always prepared to make at least 100 pitches and go as deep into games as possible.”

Ryu said he was supposed to pitch another inning. But since the Blue Jays scored a run in the top of the seventh and the Orioles had a pitching change, the inning dragged on a bit, prompting the coaching staff to go to the bullpen in the bottom of the inning.

“I ended up getting the win and so I am happy with how things played out,” Ryu said.