Ryu Hyun-jin hurt by long ball, lack of run support in loss to MLB-worst A’s

September 8, 2023

The final pitching line for Toronto Blue Jays starter Ryu Hyun-jin against the Oakland Athletics looked quite solid: five innings pitched, five hits, two runs, five strikeouts and a walk. That should have been enough to give the South Korean left-hander a win over the team with the worst record in Major League Baseball (MLB) in Oakland on Wednesday (local time).

Instead, Ryu was saddled with his second loss of the season, as the Blue Jays lost the game 5-2 at Oakland Coliseum.

This was the first game this month in which the Blue Jays failed to score at least six runs.

Against the A’s, the Blue Jays went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and got outhit 8-6.

The inability to cash in runners in scoring position has been the running theme for the Blue Jays in 2023, though they have made some strides in that area lately.

They have an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .753, good for sixth in the American League (AL). However, their OPS is just .724 with men in scoring position, eighth in the AL. Barely a month ago, they ranked 28th among 30 MLB teams in OPS with runners in scoring position.

Compare that to the AL-leading Baltimore Orioles, whose OPS with runners in scoring position is .834, far better than their overall mark of .746. The Houston Astros, tops in the AL West, have an OPS of .766, only slightly better than Toronto, but that mark jumps to the AL-best .835 when they have runners in scoring position.

In Ryu’s six previous starts, the Blue Jays had averaged 8.31 runs per game and won five of those games. But against Oakland starter JP Sears, the Blue Jays managed only a run on four hits, including Ernie Clement’s RBI single in the second.

Sears struggled with his control early and gave up four free passes, but the Blue Jays couldn’t take advantage.

Ryu did his part to try to help the Blue Jays sweep the A’s in this three-game set. He retired the first seven batters of the game. Nick Allen got Oakland’s first hit of the game with one out in the third, but Ryu retired the next two batters.

Ryu changed speeds effectively, offering slow curveballs in the 60s in mph and coming back with high-80s fastballs that must have felt much faster to the batters.

Ryu first pitched into trouble in the fourth, and the Athletics made him pay. Brent Rooker led things off with a double, though he was erased in a heads-up play by first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who fielded a hard grounder from Ryan Noda and gunned down the lead runner at third base.

With Carlos Perez at the plate, Ryu threw a wild pitch — his first since 2021 — that allowed Noda to take second. Perez then homered on the very next pitch, a 90.5 mph fastball that he golfed 410 feet to left field.

Ryu once went 14 consecutive innings without allowing a dinger. He has now surrendered four long balls in his past 15 innings across three starts.

Ryu said he was still pleased with the way he pitched in the loss.

“Overall, I think I pitched pretty well today,” Ryu told reporters through an interpreter. “Even the one where the home run came off, I did locate where I wanted to. My command and everything else in general, again, felt pretty good.”

The loss temporarily dropped the Blue Jays to fourth place in the AL Wild Card race, behind the Texas Rangers, but the Jays moved back up to third place later in the day after the Rangers suffered a 12-3 loss against the Astros.

From each league, the three division winners and three Wild Card teams will advance to the postseason.

The Blue Jays, at 77-63, have 22 games remaining this season. The Rangers, having lost 15 of their past 19 games, are 76-63.

The Blue Jays are in the midst of a soft part of the schedule. They are going home to host the Kansas City Royals, who have the second worst record in the majors at 44-97, for three games starting Friday. Then the reeling Rangers will visit Toronto for a four-game set starting Monday, with Ryu in line to get a start during the series.

Of the Blue Jays’ 22 remaining games, 16 will be at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

“We don’t really have too many games left,” Ryu said. “I’m not speaking just for myself. Every game’s going to be very important for us moving on, and we need more wins than ever.”

Pitching to Tyler Heineman for the first time with his usual partner Danny Jansen out with a broken finger, Ryu had a different pitching repertoire than in earlier outings. He brought the sinker to the mix, throwing four of them, and the cutter, not the four-seam fastball, was his most-used pitch with 23.

The cutter was also Ryu’s most effective pitch, as it induced seven whiffs on 15 swings. He got three misses out of 21 swings on all the other pitches combined.