Not only does he have exceptional command, he’s so unpredictable his own catchers sometimes have trouble anticipating what’s coming next and the few baserunners who do reach hardly ever feel comfortable enough to even attempt a stolen base. It adds up to a frustrating combination for opponents and a career ERA under 3.00 for Ryu.
Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays have become accustomed to winning when Ryu takes the mound. In fact, they had never lost back-to-back Ryu starts before losing 5-2 to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, but some poor defence cost the Blue Jays early, White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel kept the visitors off-balance all night and Chicago took the series 2-1.
The resulting loss gives the Blue Jays a 31-29 record, but it would be unfair to pin much of it on Ryu, who pitched much better than he did against the Houston Astros last Friday. Working with catcher Riley Adams for the first time, Ryu pitched six innings, allowing three runs on five hits while striking out three.
“He does what he does,” manager Charlie Montoyo said afterwards. “He made an adjustment and kept us in the game. He hasn’t been as sharp locating all of his pitches, but good enough. Good enough to keep us in the game until the end.”
To be fair, Ryu’s line would have looked much different if he’d had passable defence behind him. With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Yermin Mercedes powered a ball toward the left-field wall with the kind of off-balance swing Ryu so often generates.
The fly ball had an expected batting average of .230, meaning it should be an out far more often than not, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s read on the ball was off. He turned right, toward the foul line, but the ball was going toward left-centre. Realizing his mistake, he turned to his left and lunged, but it was too late. The ball landed behind him and Mercedes reached second with a double.
The misplay also meant there were two outs, rather than three, when the next batter, Yoan Moncada, lined out. And so the inning continued, first with a double by Jose Abreu and then with a home run by Yasmani Grandal. By the time Ryu returned to the first-base dugout, the White Sox led, 3-0.
“He’ll be the first to tell you he should make that play,” Montoyo said. “If Gurri makes that play it would have been a different game, but I see this guy every day working hard with (first-base and outfield coach) Mark Budzinski and I know it’s going to get better. But talking about this game? Yeah, it probably cost us some runs.”
For Gurriel Jr., the poorly chosen route fits a broader pattern. Too often, his reads cost him chances to catch playable fly balls and while his throwing arm can make up for some of those mistakes, it’s not a good thing if your starting left fielder consistently makes the position look hard. By using Teoscar Hernandez rather than Gurriel Jr. in situations that demand defence, the Blue Jays are suggesting they prefer others out there when possible.
Of course Gurriel Jr. has always hit, and that aspect of his game is vitally important for a team that had trouble scoring against Keuchel on Thursday.
In the fifth, Marcus Semien followed up infield singles by Joe Panik and Santiago Espinal with a line drive up the middle that scored Panik and got the Blue Jays on the board. But with runners on the corners and two out, Keuchel struck out Bo Bichette to end the threat and preserve Chicago’s lead.
The next inning, the Blue Jays scored again when Gurriel Jr. singled home Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had singled to centre to reach and advanced to third on a wild pitch. In the end, that was as close as the Blue Jays would get.
“We have one of the best offences in baseball,” Montoyo said. “This whole series we’ve got to give credit to their pitching. They did a good job. We were facing good pitching and that’s what happens when you face good pitching.”
Relievers Anthony Castro and Joel Payamps each allowed a run in relief, as the Blue Jays’ search for quality innings out of the bullpen continued with mixed results. After an impressive outing on Wednesday, Castro certainly warrants more chances in close games, even if he surrendered a home run to Adam Engel this time.
“He’s earned that,” Montoyo said before the game. “You’re going to see him more in high-leverage spots.”
Afterwards, the Blue Jays prepared for a late-night flight to Boston followed by a four-game series at Fenway Park. There’s a good chance Cavan Biggio will join them at some point this weekend, as he continues progressing from the neck injury that landed him on the injured list. And while George Springer’s timetable remains uncertain, Nate Pearson may be pushing his way back into the big-league picture after striking out six over five scoreless innings at triple-A Thursday.
Regardless of what reinforcements are on the way, the challenges keep coming for the Blue Jays. After four games at Fenway another series with the New York Yankees awaits next week before the schedule finally lets up and the chance to beat up on lesser competition arrives at last.