Hyun Jin Ryu drove toward home plate and released a spinning changeup toward the corner of the zone. Reese McGuire flicked his glove to frame the pitch, but umpire Joe West was already firing a hand pistol to the side, signaling for strike two.
It was a seemingly meaningless pitch in the middle of the first inning of an eventual blowout win, but it embodied the methodical dominance that Hyun Jin Ryu can have. He struck out Trey Mancini on a backfoot curveball on the next pitch, but when the next batter dug in, Ryu immediately went back to picking the outside corner.
Early in starts, Toronto’s ace often tests umpires' strike zones. He forces his changeup and fastball to the bottom corner of the zone and works his way in until the home plate umpire begins to call strikes.
Against the Orioles early, Ryu had full control of the outside corner. He cruised through six innings, before running into a wall in the seventh, providing the background music for the Blue Jays 12-run offensive outbreak. Ryu hasn’t been the dominant ace all year and flashed similar struggles in the seventh today. But the first six innings of Saturday’s ballgame established what Ryu is capable of — the Ryu Toronto needs to eliminate bullpen stress and potentially pitch a particularly meaningful game in October.
Even when a perfectly placed Freddy Galvis bunt in the second inning worked two runners on with no outs, Ryu needed just four pitches to induce an easy double play and the following grounder to end the inning.
“I was mixing my pitches with the stuff I could throw today," Ryu said through an interpreter. "And getting soft contact.”
Toronto’s three home runs and a trio of four-run innings alleviated any stressful pitches, but Ryu worked as efficiently as he’s ever been for the Blue Jays. Holding his glove in his right hand, walking off the field with his head down after the fifth inning, the lefty had thrown just 49 pitches. He finished with 6.2 innings pitched on 91 bullets thrown and only labored in the seventh inning, after walking the bases loaded and allowing four runs to score. Four of his seven innings required less than 10 pitches.
“We were thinking that [he could go nine]," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "Because his pitch count was so low, and he was dealing. Almost like we were watching a no-hitter.”
Ryu's ERA as a Blue Jay sits at a pristine 3.0, but of late his results have varied. The lefty's latest start was a seven-inning gem with just one run allowed, but the three starts before Ryu combined for 12 runs against.
In 2021, Ryu has induced a career-worst whiff rate on his changeup and again struggled to locate it in the seventh, Saturday. He felt good with the pitch compared to recent starts, Ryu said, and continues to work with pitching coach Pitch Walker to refine his balance during delivery and consistent arm speed. Even without his signature pitch, Ryu’s bad days are top-of-rotation material, but the sub-par outings sting because of the ceiling Toronto’s ace established.
A night after the latest bullpen collapse, Ryu reminded Blue Jays fans the calming and consistent length he provides almost every start. But Saturday’s seventh inning was also a reminder the Korean Monster can struggle, too.