Blue Jays’ Ryu Hyun-jin lacks fastball velocity, command vs. Yankees

September 8, 2020

Up against his old nemesis, the New York Yankees, for the first time as a Toronto Blue Jay, South Korean starter Ryu Hyun-jin didn’t have his four-seam fastball working.

While getting a no-decision in a 12-7 victory by the Blue Jays in Buffalo, New York, on Monday (local time), Ryu had neither the usual command nor the velocity of his fastball.

Ryu gave up five earned runs in five innings on six hits, three of them solo home runs. He had allowed three home runs all season over his first eight starts prior to this game. This was Ryu’s second straight meeting with the Yankees in which he served up three dingers.

Two of those home runs Monday, by Luke Voit and Aaron Hicks in the first inning, came against a four-seam fastball on the inner part of the plate. Both pitches were clocked at 89.9 mph.

And that’s the average fastball velocity this season for Ryu, who averaged 90.7 mph with that pitch last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This year, Ryu ranks in the sixth percentile in Major League Baseball (MLB) in average fastball velocity.

The crafty lefty mostly gets by with guile and command. He keeps hitters off balance by mixing in four or five different pitches and throwing them at counts when hitters don’t expect them.

Though the changeup is Ryu’s bread and butter, his foundation is often his four-seam fastball. When his changeup or other breaking pitches are working, Ryu can get antsy hitters to chase fastballs that are just outside the zone as to be tantalizing. Even a 90 mph fastball from Ryu can feel much faster for hitters who sit on changeups or curveballs.

But right from the top of the first inning in Monday’s game, it was evident Ryu didn’t have the fastball command. With one out, Voit turned on an inside fastball and drove it over the left field. Hicks went back-to-back with Voit, as he also drove an inside fastball to left field.

Ryu ended up throwing five fastballs in the first inning while offering 10 changeups. And sensing that his fastball wasn’t going to work, Ryu stayed away from that pitch and doubled down on changeups on the outside corner against right-handed batters for the rest of the game.

The third Yankees home run, by Miguel Andujar in the fourth, came off a hanging slider.

Of his 98 pitches, Ryu threw 37 changeups against just 19 fastballs, for the usage rate of 19.4 percent. He had thrown the four-seamer about 26 percent of the time prior to this start.

Ryu failed to induce any whiffs on his 19 fastballs. He averaged 88.7 mph on that pitch in this game, topping out at 90.4 mph. That was the lowest average fastball velocity this season for Ryu.

“After allowing two home runs in the first inning (with the fastball), I had to change my approach,” Ryu said in his postgame Zoom session. “I didn’t plan on throwing so many changeups, but I had no choice but to stay on the outside corner because I gave up home runs on inside pitches.”

His 37 changeups generated 10 whiffs, but Clint Frazier connected on one for a two-run double in the fifth that put the Yankees ahead 5-2.

With two outs, two men on and a 2-2 count, Ryu went to his most trusted pitch to keep it a one-run game. He gave credit where it was due, saying, “It wasn’t a bad pitch. I made the best choice I could in that situation and the batter hit it well.”

In three career starts versus the Yankees, Ryu is 0-2 with an 8.8 ERA, with seven home runs in just 15 1/3 innings.

On his poor performance against the Yankees, Ryu simply said, “I’ll try to do better next time.”

Though Ryu left the game with a deficit, his teammates bailed him out by rallying for the win. The Blue Jays’ bullpen gave up another run in the top of the sixth and then the lineup exploded for 10 runs in the bottom of the inning to go up 12-6.

The inning featured a grand slam by catcher Danny Jansen.

“I gave up some early runs, and we had to play catchup,” Ryu said. “Then in the bottom sixth, our hitters really focused and did a tremendous job, in ways that I can’t even describe in words. I was happy to see Danny come up huge at the plate.”