Either way, the veteran lefty has certainly given his team cause for concern. Since a Sept. 6 gem against the New York Yankees, in which he threw six shutout innings and struck out six while allowing only three hits, he’s delivered consecutive duds, getting blistered for 12 runs on 13 hits over 4.1 innings in the process.
The latest thumping came in Friday night’s 7-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins, during which he allowed five runs on five hits in two-plus innings, including back-to-back homers from Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson. Put in a wider context, the start marked the sixth time this year he’s allowed more than five runs, with four of them coming in his last eight outings.
“I’ve been leaving a lot of my pitches over the plate too much, more than I’d hope, and that’s resulted in a lot of runs in a single inning,” Ryu said through interpreter J.S. Park. “That’s the struggle this month.”
Mixed into that stretch is a seven-shutout-inning start against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 21, a 5.2 inning, three-run outing Aug. 31 against Baltimore in which he carried a no-hitter into the sixth and the Yankees gem, which he left early with forearm tightness.
Whether that’s a lingering issue is unclear – Ryu said he felt fine after his rocky last time out Sept. 11 against the Orioles – but with the Blue Jays fighting for the post-season, determining next steps for him is critical.
“Not really in that aspect,” Ryu replied when asked if there was a connection between the arm issue in New York and his subsequent performances. Later he added, “I feel fine. I don't feel anything different.”
Jose Berrios, who left his outing Tuesday with tightness in his left abdomen, will make his next start Sunday, manager Charlie Montoyo said before the game, with Alek Manoah pushed to Tuesday, as a way to manage his workload. As Sportsnet colleague Ben Nicholson-Smith detailed here, that gives the Blue Jays the option of skipping Steven Matz on Sept. 29 and pitching Berrios and Robbie Ray against the New York Yankees in that crucial series.
That would also keep Ray on turn for a potential wild card game Oct. 5, and Berrios in line for a tiebreaker game Oct. 4, if needed. But such a scenario also calls for Ryu to pitch next Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays and the series opener against the Yankees on Sept. 28, and he made it through just four batters in the third Friday, unable to deliver a shutdown inning after the Blue Jays had given him a 2-1 lead in the second.
Montoyo said skipping a start is “always an option” for any of his pitchers but Ryu “hasn't complained about anything (physical). His command hasn't been there and that's one of the reasons he has struggled.”
“But he's fine. He's healthy. He hasn't complained,” Montoyo continued. “It's all about his command. If he gets it, he'll be fine, like he's always done in the past.”
Ryu’s long track record earns him some rope.
But if something is amiss physically – and even extra rest, a boost that coming into the night lowered his ERA from 5.64 in 12 starts on four days to 2.61 in 10 outings on five days, didn’t help Friday – can the Blue Jays chance it in critical contests?
Friday’s loss dropped the Blue Jays (82-65) a game back of the Boston Red Sox (84-65) for the first wild card and a half game back of the New York Yankees (83-65) for the second.
Montoyo pointed to how much trust he has in his lefty and praised him as “that guy that can make an adjustment just like that from outing to outing.”
Ryu, for his part, isn’t interested in taking a start off.
Asked if he thought that might be beneficial, Ryu replied, “I don't really want to think about it that way and on top of that, I don't really want to do that.”
Regaining his usual pinpoint command, the skill which allows him to thrive despite a fastball velocity hovering around 90 m.p.h., was key, he said, and that, “I just need to find myself and try to fight back through this.”
The Blue Jays offence, which got Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 46th homer of the season and not much else, can’t be expected to bail Ryu as he tries to regain equilibrium, the way they rallied from five runs down to beat the Orioles last Saturday, and the issue isn’t just the result.
To get through Friday’s game, the Blue Jays had to burn through Ross Stripling (who gave up Miguel Sano’s solo shot as he entered the game before throwing three innings), Julian Merryweather (who gave up a Brent Rooker solo shot), Nate Pearson, Ryan Borucki and Adam Cimber.
It’s the type of bullpen usage that usually gets someone optioned, while leaving the relief corps thin for the rest of the series, although Montoyo said his relief corps is fine for Saturday and that several of the relievers actually needed work.
Regardless, a strong outing Saturday from Matz would do everyone a solid with the Blue Jays having started a stretch of 10 straight games without a break.
Berrios can do the same Sunday by showing the Blue Jays that the abdomen tightness issue is behind him, but the rotation stability that has fuelled the club’s recent surge suddenly feels a little unsettled.
It could simply be a brief aberration, one that happens over a long season and something Ryu will soon correct. But if it’s a trend, the Blue Jays don’t have the runway to wait out the struggles until he gets back to normal.