When Hyun-Jin Ryu took the mound against the Yankees on Tuesday night, it was impossible to know what to expect. The 34-year-old has been either very good this season or very bad. It has rarely been something in between.
Entering the crucial series opener against New York, Ryu posted a 1.64 ERA in 13 wins. In the other 16 starts, he had a 7.22 ERA.
So what version of Ryu were the Blue Jays going to get? The one who helped them solidify last year’s postseason spot with a scoreless seven against the Yankees? Or the one who raged against Tampa Bay in the wild card series?
As it turned out, none. Ryu wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t particularly good either. He escaped a jam in the first, delivered a center-cut home run to Aaron Judge in the third and two more runs in the fifth in a game the Blue Jays lost 7-2, in front of 28,769 fans at the Rogers Center. .
The loss left the Blue Jays three games behind the Yankees for the second wild card, but they remained one behind Boston after the Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-2.
“Overall, I felt pretty good,” Ryu said through an interpreter after the game. “I was able to execute and throw the pitches that I wanted, much more than in the previous outings. I felt pretty good … I went in and pitched according to the game plan. I dropped the home run, which was hanging, and left a bit more on the plate. Even the last hitter, it’s not what pitchers can really control. “
Three earned runs on six hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings. It wasn’t nearly as bad as last year’s game against the Rays, when he had just five outs and allowed seven runs, but still wasn’t close to the start the Blue Jays needed. In a must-win series against New York, Ryu was betting on a slim pair of leads and couldn’t hold either, which isn’t much of an ace, despite the lack of overall offense on the part of the Blue Jays did not. Don’t do him any favors.
The unfortunate part for the Jays is that the reason they signed Ryu in the first place was for games like this. He was awarded a four-year contract worth $ 80 million (US) in December 2019 to take on the role of number one starter, at least temporarily, while he awaits a subsequent transition to an elite mid-level starter. when the Blue Jays improve and were finally ready to hang with the rightful contenders.
The Blue Jays got the ace version of Ryu last year, when he finished in the top three in voting for the AL Cy Young Award with a 2.62 ERA in 12 starts. This season, he has pitched more as a back-end opener, the occasional skip type, than an integral piece.
It’s hard to tell if it’s the recent neck pain, mechanical problems, or just running out of gas. However, what’s out of the question is that Ryu hasn’t had it in a while.
Since August 5, Ryu is 2-4 with a 7.90 ERA. In five of those nine starts, he allowed at least four runs. Tuesday night would have been six if it weren’t for an ingenious job by reliever Adam Cimber to put a running back on second.
“We have to go back and try to win our next game,” Ryu said. “All these games are going to be very important. I am going to prepare and prepare for my last game of the season, and I hope that our players are there to compete and do our best until the end ”.
Ryu is still tied for the Blue Jays lead with 13 wins, but he ranks last among the starters with a 4.39 ERA. At the beginning of the year, a lot of people believed that he was the only guy the Blue Jays couldn’t afford to lose for an extended period. Now he’s likely fifth on the depth chart behind Robbie Ray, José Berríos, Alek Manoah and potentially even Steven Matz.
What the Jays really needed was for Ryu to put his stamp on this series. Last year, in a somewhat similar setting, Ryu scored seven scoreless innings in his last outing against New York. At the time, the Blue Jays held a small two-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild-card spot, Ryu’s win essentially guaranteed they would qualify for the postseason.
And despite recent struggles, there were valid reasons for the Blue Jays to believe they could get that kind of performance out of him again. Over the past two years, Ryu posted a 2.50 ERA in six starts against the Bronx Bombers. This season, he had been even better with a perfect 2-0 record with a 1.88 ERA in six games before things went south at the start of the Blue Jays’ latest home run.
“As you can see, he puts a smile on my face,” Jays general manager Ross Atkins said a couple of hours before Tuesday’s first pitch. “Everything about him, everything he has meant to this organization so far. I love the way he competes. I love watching him pitch, just as a pitching fanatic. He is a true artist. So really excited to see tonight’s challenge. Very optimistic too. “
The upside for the Jays is that while Ryu has a scheduled start to the regular season left, it will be against the Baltimore Orioles. If there’s a win or go home game as part of a tiebreaker scenario, or a wild card, you won’t be anywhere near it. After opening the year as the undisputed No. 1, those priority matchups will now belong to Ray, Berríos or Manoah.
This has been a huge fall from grace for Ryu. He’s gone from the arm the Blue Jays trusted most, possibly the least trusted, and it all happened in a matter of months. Last year, the eight-year veteran cost them a chance to beat the Rays in the playoffs. This season, their unsatisfactory performance against the Yankees could play a role in keeping them from even entering.
Ryu is not the $ 80 million bargain he seemed to be earlier in the season. For the past few months, it’s been the exact opposite: a $ 80 million bankruptcy.
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