As Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched for the first time this spring, the Toronto Blue Jays should be encouraged by what they saw from their off-season acquisition.
People might talk about how his fastball got hit hard a couple of times including a home run but at a time where pitchers are facing batters in something other than simulated action, the scoreboard isn’t the important part. It would have been different if Ryu couldn’t get an out and was not locating the zone.
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What Ryu showed that was promising was getting out of a jam in the first inning after allowing a leadoff double and a single by getting a strikeout, fielder’s choice and a groundout.
As Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet writes, Ryu didn’t seem to have any issue commanding his pitches as he painted the corners and earned six swinging strikes. It also helps that he was throwing first-pitch strikes to get himself ahead in the count.
Reese McGuire obviously had the tough assignment of getting Ryu’s first start and while there were only some instances where they weren’t on the same page, but eventually they were able to figure things out.
“That first inning, a couple hits right away. And then all of a sudden we started dialling in some pitches and it was almost like he was starting his wind-up as the fingers were going down,” McGuire told reporters on his work with Ryu. “We were on pace pretty good right there.”
This is key for a pitcher like Ryu who isn’t going to use a high velocity to blow batter away. He is all about finesse and trying to use his off-speed to establish a rhythm that will wreak havoc on opposing hitters.
“He’s big on controlling bat speed and getting a feel for a hitter’s swing,” pitching coach Pete Walker said about Ryu’s approach. “I think he’s just trying to get his rhythm right now. That’s his biggest thing. Even in his sides, he’s not trying to rush his process.”
It’s no surprise that as analytics play a bigger role in how front offices construct their rosters, Ryu’s ability to not rely on one or two pitches should play well in an AL East that has some of the toughest hitters in baseball. This is why Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro were excited to land the South Korean.
Also having a pitcher who prefers to call his own game is something that will be a new experience for McGuire and Jansen but one that should be beneficial in how they work with other pitchers. It’s also hard to argue against a pitcher who has been in the running for a Cy Young as well.
What did you think about Ryu’s first outing with the Blue Jays? Can he be the ace of the pitching staff this season? Let us know in the comments below.