Ryu Hyun-jin looks to bounce back as Blue Jays’ rotation struggles early

April 13, 2022

 The five-man starting rotation for the Toronto Blue Jays has completed its first turn of the season, with only one of them having pitched well enough to earn a victory.

The team’s South Korean starter Ryu Hyun-jin struggled out of the gate, as did most of his rotation mates, and he will look to quickly right the ship that has been wobbly since last summer.

The Blue Jays, widely regarded as a heavy favorite to come out on top in the always competitive American League (AL) East, are 3-2 after losing to the New York Yankees 4-0 in the Bronx on Tuesday (local time).

Toronto starter Yusei Kikuchi couldn’t get out of the fourth inning in his Blue Jays debut and gave up three runs — one unearned — on five hits in 3 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out two.

So far, only Alek Manoah, the No. 4 starter, has emerged with a win in the rotation. He pitched six shutout innings and gave up just one hit in a 3-0 victory Monday.

Manoah is also the only Blue Jays starter to pitch into the sixth inning this season.

Opening Day starter Jose Berrios recorded just one out before getting pulled in the first inning Friday. He faced seven batters and served up three hits and two walks for four runs. HIs teammates bailed him out with an offensive outburst for a 10-8 win.

The Blue Jays staged another comeback victory the next day, after starter Kevin Gausman gave up three runs on eight hits in five innings. Toronto scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth for a 4-3 victory.

On Sunday, the Blue Jays staked Ryu to a 4-0 lead and then a 6-1 lead early, but Ryu couldn’t make it stand.

Things fell apart in the fourth inning, when Ryu surrendered four consecutive hits, the last of which was an infield single by Jonah Heim that went off Ryu’s leg.

Ryu was taken out of the game immediately, with the Rangers having cut the deficit to 6-4. Reliever Julian Merryweather allowed two inherited runners to score to make it a 6-6 tie, and the Rangers managed another run later in that inning en route to a 12-6 win. Ryu was charged with six earned runs on five hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays then blanked the Yankees behind Manoah’s gem, before the Bronx Bombers returned the favor to split the first two games of their four-game set. Berrios and Gausman will finish off the series at Yankee Stadium, and Ryu is lined up to take the mound against the Oakland Athletics, back in Toronto, on Friday.

Though the season is still young, this is not the start that had been expected of the rotation that many pundits felt would be one of the best in the majors this year.

With a talented young core led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the AL MVP runner-up last season, the Blue Jays certainly have the firepower to outscore their pitching woes. But relying on bats to keep carrying the day for 162 games is far from ideal.

There have not been that many dominant starting pitching performances over the first week of the season. The trend can be attributed to the condensed spring training, which began about a month behind schedule due to the lockout. Starting pitchers didn’t have as much time to get stretched out as they normally would. Ryu, for instance, made only one official spring training appearance, and pitched in simulated games and scrimmages to get ready for the regular season.

Teams also have the luxury of carrying extra relievers for the early part of the season. Major League Baseball (MLB) is allowing teams to have a 28-man roster, rather than the usual 26-man roster, through May 1. There is currently no limit on the number of pitchers, which helps clubs ease the burden on their starters. The Blue Jays have 15 pitchers on their active roster now, with eight relievers backing up five starters.

However, starting May 2, teams will go back to 26-man rosters, and there will be a 13-pitcher limit too. The Blue Jays will have to remove two relievers, and starters, sooner or later, will have to pick up the slack and go deeper into games.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen has pitched 26 innings so far, the third most in the AL.

Ryu stumbled across the finish line last year, when he posted a 7.78 ERA over his final five starts. And his first start of 2022 was far from encouraging, with opposing hitters teeing off on pitch after pitch. Ryu generated only five whiffs on 33 swings that the Rangers took.

Ryu will be pitching to an unfamiliar catcher for a few starts. Danny Jansen, the Blue Jays’ everyday catcher and the most frequent batterymate for Ryu, has been ruled out for several weeks with a left oblique injury.

Jansen caught Ryu for 19 starts last year, and Ryu had a 3.91 ERA in 101 1/3 innings with Jansen behind the dish, compared with a 5.17 ERA with Reese McGuire and a 4.50 ERA with Riley Adams.

Both McGuire and Adams are no longer with the Blue Jays. Alejandro Kirk, Zack Collins and Tyler Heineman are the three backstops on the current active roster, and Ryu has never worked with any of them.