Ryu’s extra-rest success adds intrigue to Blue Jays’ home stretch rotation

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu. (Adrian Kraus/AP)

TORONTO – Hyun-Jin Ryu’s latest effective start on an extra day of rest raises some intriguing considerations for the Toronto Blue Jays in mapping out their rotation for the final two weeks of the season.

Sunday’s six-inning, one-run effort in a 7-3 victory over the New York Mets pushed the ace lefty’s totals to a 2.16 ERA over 33.1 innings with 37 strikeouts and just seven walks over six starts on five days of rest. Now, correlation isn’t necessarily causation, but compared against his 3.94 ERA in 16 innings over three starts on the usual four days of rest, and one messy 4.2 inning outing on three days of rest, well, there’s a case for Ryu to keep getting an extra day.

Doing so over the remaining 14 games, however, would mean the left-hander would miss the New York Yankees during the last week of the season, and also push him toward the latter part of a first-round playoff series, should the Blue Jays indeed clinch a post-season berth.

But keeping Ryu on regular rest and having him start one of the two games in Friday’s doubleheader at the Philadelphia Phillies would allow them to give him an extra day before facing the Yankees on Sept. 24 and line him up to pitch a playoff opener on normal rest.

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“What’s going to factor is how he feels, that’s No. 1,” manager Charlie Montoyo said of when Ryu starts next. “If he tells us he needs a day, we’ll give him a day. If he doesn’t need a day, he’ll pitch on his fifth day. …

“We’re going to continue playing it by ear.”

For now the Blue Jays aren’t set beyond Taijuan Walker starting this week’s series opener at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, followed by Tanner Roark on Wednesday. Monday’s off-day allows them to bring Robbie Ray back on regular rest for Thursday’s series finale against the Yankees even though it’s Chase Anderson’s turn, but either way they’re set up to cover Friday’s twin-bill thanks to Ross Stripling’s availability to start at some point this week.

If he’s not needed in relief in New York, Stripling will start one of Friday’s games, said Montoyo.

How they set things up is essential, because unless they realign the rotation, Walker would miss the Sept. 21-24 series in Buffalo against the Yankees, with Roark getting the opener in that one. But keeping him on turn would set him up to pitch the second game of a post-season series behind Ryu, so the Blue Jays will have to think both short- and long-term.

That isn’t always easy, as with all their pitchers the Blue Jays have operated in relatively shorter-term chunks, adjusting as needed based on how their starters have reacted to workload.

“Ideally, knowing your start days definitely helps,” Ryu said through interpreter Bryan Lee. “But in reality that’s hard to do because there are so many different variables and always the circumstances are changing. Yeah, theoretically I like to know things ahead but it really doesn’t matter at this point because it can’t always happen that way.”

Take the decision to start Ryu on Sunday instead of Saturday.

In his last time out, against the Yankees last Monday, he abandoned his fastball early after surrendering a pair of homers on the heater, relying on his secondary weapons that eventually New York hitters timed up in getting to him to five runs in five innings. The lefty’s velocity was down a tick that day, averaging 88.7 m.p.h. on his four-seamer, down from his season average of 89.8, and that slight dip impacts the effectiveness of a weapon he uses to get up and in on right-handed hitters.

Hyun Jin Ryu‘s four seam chart for the 2020 season.

Afterwards, the Blue Jays and Ryu talked things over, with Montoyo saying “we felt like he needed an extra day and he agreed.”

Ryu said the extra day helped, but as for the statistical difference in his outings on four and five days of rest, he wasn’t ready to draw any conclusions.

“I’m not sure what the split looks like, but normally I expect to have four days of rest going into the next game, that’s what I’m used to, but here and there, getting an extra day off can definitely help,” he said. “I’m not really sure how drastically it’s different.”

Against the Mets, Ryu’s velocity was up slightly at 89.1 on the four-seamer he threw 37 times out of 92 pitches, generating five of his 14 swinging strikes. More crucially, Ryu got stronger over the course of his outing, navigating traffic through the first four frames before retiring his last eight batters in a row, the final six in the third time through the lineup.

“He’s an ace,” said Montoyo. “What he did today, they had his changeup and he said, ‘OK, you’re on me with the changeup,’ so he made an adjustment, throwing his cutter inside. It made a big difference. That’s what good pitchers do, that’s what he did today and that was fun to watch. Early on, ooh, they were on to him, then he made an adjustment and did a great job.”

Dom Smith’s RBI single in the first was erased by a two-run homer in the second by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and the Blue Jays opened things up with a five-run sixth, which began with four consecutive walks and was capped by Santiago Espinal’s three-run double.

The victory was the fifth in seven games for the Blue Jays (26-20), who lead the Yankees (26-21) by a half-game heading into their series in the Bronx this week. Their last day off of the regular season Monday gives them a chance for a strategic realignment of their rotation, one that increasingly must take post-season considerations into account.

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