DUNEDIN, Fla. – Hyun-Jin Ryu described his second side session at Toronto Blue Jays camp as “productive overall,” throwing 40 pitches with one up-and-down Sunday and making an adjustment on his curveball after talking with Danny Jansen about his release point.
The exchange with Jansen was of particular interest, since the pitcher-catcher dynamic is important for Ryu, who calls his own game.
Last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Canadian Russell Martin caught 20 of his 29 starts, the two combining for a 1.52 ERA together. In six starts with everyday catcher Will Smith, Ryu’s ERA was 5.40.
“Personally, I like to call my own game because I’m very confident in the preparation phase and the amount of time I put in studying the hitters,” Ryu said in comments interpreted by Bryan Lee. “So I like to get on the same page as the catcher and all the intentions behind pitches and whatnot.”
With Jansen, Ryu said “we’re off to a good start,” but notes that “it’s a bullpen session so he’s not actually calling pitches behind the plate.” The Grapefruit League season will better reveal how in-line their thinking is.
Ryu and Martin got on a roll last year with a strong first outing together and “we kept building off that confidence and chemistry.”
“His set-up, his glove position, everything, in general, was really good,” added Ryu.
Thus far, he appreciates the same things in Jansen and McGuire, and insists locking in with a single catcher isn’t necessary.
“Last year was abnormal,” said Ryu. “I usually work with all the catchers. It’s up to the pitcher to work with different types of catchers, as well.”
YOUNG OLD GUY
On April 16, when the Blue Jays enjoy an off-day ahead of the start a long road trip, Travis Shaw will turn 30 years old, a rarity amid the club’s remarkably young position-player base.
As things stand the versatile and hard-hitting infielder, signed primarily to replace the departed Justin Smoak at first base, is the only non-pitcher on the 40-man roster who either already has, or will this year hit the milestone birthday.
Ten pitchers – Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ken Giles, Matt Shoemaker, Shun Yamaguchi, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis, Wilmer Font and Sam Gaviglio – are or will be 30 this year, as well, which gives Shaw a chance to become an important voice in the clubhouse.
“Experience – I feel like I’ve experienced quite a few things,” he replied Sunday when asked what he brings to the clubhouse. “I don’t feel like an old guy but unfortunately I am on this team. Been to a couple playoffs, been through a deep playoff run. Have some experience in both leagues. I’ve played multiple positions. So anything I can do to help anybody in there I’m willing to do.”
The Blue Jays targeted Shaw over the winter the moment he was non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers after a difficult 2019, when he changed his swing and fought hard to regain it.
Manager Charlie Montoyo has long been a fan of the left-handed slugger, and believes he’s ready to regain his past form at the plate. Defensively, Montoyo said Shaw will see action at third base, as well as first, with time at second a possibility as well.
For the most part, though, he’ll anchor first base with an infield set to include Cavan Biggio, 25 on April 11, at second base, Bo Bichette, 22 on March 5, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 21 on March 16, at third base.
“Those guys are really talented,” said Shaw. “To get to the big leagues that young is impressive. To think Vladdy is only – what is he, 20 years old? – I was still in college at 20 years old. So that says a lot about those guys and how talented they are. You learn a lot, I think, in your first year in the big leagues. I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of those guys will continue to progress and continue to get better and I’m hoping to learn as much from them as hopefully, I can bring the other way around.”
ATOP THE LINEUP
Charlie Montoyo liked the way the top of the Blue Jays lineup looked toward the end of the 2019 season which is why he envisions Bo Bichette, who batted leadoff in 45 of his 46 games last year, up top again, followed by Cavan Biggio.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking right now,” he said.
The placing of Biggio is especially interesting given that he and Travis Shaw currently project as the only left-handed regulars for the Blue Jays. Reese McGuire, Rowdy Tellez, Derek Fisher and Billy McKinney are the only other left-handed batters on the 40-man roster, but non-roster infielder Joe Panik is also a southpaw and he’s expected to make the team.
Breaking up long runs of right-handed hitters, therefore, won’t be easy for Montoyo, which means Biggio and Shaw must be placed strategically.
“Biggio was so good at the top of the lineup last year,” said Montoyo. “He got on base all the time, second half, August and September was outstanding, so I see Biggio being at the top of the lineup again.”
Toward the end of 2019, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was batting third followed by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Randal Grichuk was the club’s most frequently hitter in the fifth spot at 41 times, but that’s where Shaw could find himself this year.
“I’m hoping if he does what he did every time I saw him, he should be somewhere in the middle of the lineup,” said Montoyo. “Five, six, in there somewhere.”
The Blue Jays used 158 different lineups last season, using four batting orders twice. Part of that was the amount of roster turnover experienced over the season, part of that was Montoyo’s desire to ensure no one sits idle too long.
This year, “I’m hoping it’s more of a set lineup,” said Montoyo. “If we have a set lineup, that’s good for us. I’m hoping we’re to that point this year.”
MEMORIES OF TONY
There were lots of good Tony Fernandez stories flowing upon news of his death at age 57, with a couple of good ones from Buck Martinez.
On Fernandez’s whimsy: “I had the distinct honour of playing with him and managing him, because he came back with us in June of 2001. He pinch-hit in the final game of the season. We were playing against Cleveland, and he pinch-hit in the eighth. His spot had come up in the ninth, but he had gone home. That was Tony. That’s the way Tony was, and everyone understood that. Chris Woodward had to hit for Tony, the pinch-hitter.”
On Fernandez’s sense of humour: “He would always cut George Bell down to his knees whenever George got going, and Tony would remind him. And I’ll never forget a couple years ago, we were all together and Tony was up and the crowd didn’t really know Tony that well, but he said something to the effect, that George Bell and Michael Jackson had a lot in common. They both wore a glove for no obvious reason. That was Tony’s sense of humour.”
“Right now I’m still trying to find the best Korean barbeque place around here. Once I do find it I’ll be sure to take them out.” – Hyun-Jin Ryu on whether he’s taken out his young teammates yet.