Ryu eyeing post All-Star break return

May 25th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Tuesday afternoon at Tropicana Field, a man who resembled stepped onto the field, dressed in Blue Jays gear, and strolled towards the bullpen. 

Ryu’s stride is unmistakable. It’s like a midway point between a waddle and a Wild West gunslinger walking into town, arms swinging out wide from his body.

The only thing missing was 20% of Ryu. He’s never looked better physically, losing a significant amount of weight during his recovery from Tommy John surgery that is now hitting the home stretch. Most pitchers hesitate to put a hard date on their return, saying instead that they’re just focused on checking off the next box and following the team’s plan.

Not Ryu.

“From the get go, I’ve said that ideally I want to come back after the All-Star break so I can be part of the team for the second half of the season,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “That’s my goal right now. I’m going to have my schedule set up accordingly.”

That’s not far away. The All-Star break runs from July 10-13, and even if you add some padding here to account for a player’s optimism about their own recovery, the end of July could be on the table for a return. The question quickly becomes, then, where Ryu fits? Does he go to the bullpen? Does someone else?

These things always tend to work themselves out. Nearly two months into the season, the Blue Jays are the only team in Major League Baseball to use just five starting pitchers. 

It’s remarkable, but in reality, it’s unlikely to last. If and when Ryu is ready to return, there will be a role waiting for him if his performance is worthy.

For now, Ryu is just starting the fun part. He’s back up on the mound, and Tuesday’s bullpen session at Tropicana Field drew a crowd. The entire Blue Jays pitching staff watched as Ryu threw, applauding when he finished. Ryu called it some of the most fun he’s had since he began rehab last season.

“I wanted to keep in contact with all of the other players and people around our team,” Ryu said. “This is my first time seeing them after Spring Training. I feel really good seeing them, all of the guys. I feel like this helped rejuvenate me with where I am right now.”

Ryu doesn’t exactly need to build his velocity back up to 100 mph, which helps, but it can be challenging for some pitchers to get their feel back immediately after returning from Tommy John surgery. Ryu’s changeup is so important, so that will be a key factor in all of this. Breaking balls tend to be one of the final challenges, too, given the strain on the elbow, but Ryu is progressing well through every stage of this.

“I’ve started to throw my curveball and my changeup,” Ryu said. “I have to get my pitch counts up and be able to throw my cutter as well. Again, the most important thing is to get my body in shape to become a starter.”

It’s easy to forget just who Ryu was, but it’s important not to. His four-year, $80 million deal announced to the rest of baseball that the Blue Jays were ready to grow and build around their young core, led by rookies and . His 2.69 ERA in that COVID-shortened 2020 season was what the Blue Jays paid for, and he pitched them into the postseason. It was a brief appearance, but felt like the start of something. 

In 37 starts since then, Ryu posted a 4.55 ERA. He didn’t look like the dominant lefty who owned a career ERA of 2.95 entering 2021, so can we really expect some of that to magically return following a surgery and year-plus recovery? 

He’s fighting the odds and fighting time, but in the final year of his contract, it looks like Ryu will get a shot at writing his own comeback story.