TORONTO -- Manager Charlie Montoyo officially named left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu the Blue Jays’ 2021 Opening Day starter following his final Grapefruit League start of the spring on Friday, to the surprise of no one.
Toronto’s clear and undisputed ace gets the nod for the second consecutive season after finishing third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2020 with a 2.69 ERA. The obvious decision was an easy one for Montoyo.
“Of course we were thinking that from the beginning,” Montoyo said, “but you’ve got to see how everything goes in Spring Training, how his starts were going to be and the progress that he’s made. Now that he's done everything that it takes to get to that spot, it's easy for me to announce that he’s going to be our Opening Day starter.”
Montoyo’s go-to analysis for a good outing from Ryu is to say that, ‘He looked like Ryu.’ That’s what the Blue Jays need in '21. This rotation picture could look much different as the season goes on, especially as we approach the Trade Deadline on July 31, but the Blue Jays need Ryu at his best. If he misses time or struggles, which no one is expecting, his caliber of innings isn't easy to replace.
In Friday’s 6-5 win over the Phillies on a Richard Ureña walkoff single, Ryu allowed eight hits over four innings of three-run ball, striking out five. Ryu actually left the third inning early to avoid throwing too many pitches in one frame and re-entered for the fourth and part of the fifth. But all that matters for the ace at this point in the spring is his workload. Mission accomplished, as Ryu got up to 89 pitches before throwing a few more in the bullpen and is right where he wants to be leading up to Opening Day.
“I think everything went according to plan,” Ryu said through a team translator. “I accumulated my pitches slowly and I think I'm at the right stage right now. I knew exactly how much I wanted to throw in today's game as well, so I think I'm pretty well ready for the season.”
Panik cracks Opening Day roster
The Blue Jays announced Friday that veteran infielder Joe Panik has made the Opening Day roster. Panik, who had an opt-out in his Minor League contract on Thursday, will be the club’s primary middle infielder and brings value in the clubhouse, where he works with the young core. This spring, Panik has been most impressed with an increased attention to detail from this group.
“That's what's going to take you far in October,” Panik said. “Obviously, we have the talent to get to October, but it's about how to get deep into October. Just watching the way guys practiced, I think guys really take it seriously to do the little things here.”
The Blue Jays saw this last season in the AL Wild Card Series against the Rays, who went on to face the Dodgers in the World Series. When games got tight in October, the Rays didn’t always succeed by overwhelming opponents with their talent, but by doing every small thing right and avoiding self-inflicted damage. That’s the next step for Toronto’s talented roster, especially defensively.
Given Panik’s experience at second, where he won a Gold Glove Award with the Giants, he’s focused more this spring on third base and shortstop. He’s also Montoyo’s emergency catcher, and has caught some balls off a machine recently just in case he’s called upon.
Vlad launches a laser
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s big spring continued Friday with a frozen rope over the left-field wall. On a 3-0 pitch, Guerrero let it rip and produced an exit velocity of 114.4 mph. It wasn’t high, but when you hit it that hard, it doesn’t need to be.
Merryweather makes Grapefruit League debut
One of the most encouraging takeaways Friday was the Grapefruit League debut of Julian Merryweather, who’d been throwing outside of game action earlier in camp and missed some time with lower back tightness. The 29-year-old right-hander issued a walk, but pitched a scoreless inning.
Merryweather was up to 98.2 mph with his fastball, which sat consistently near 97 mph, and his high-80s slider continues to show wipeout potential. Early in camp, the Blue Jays planned to “stretch out” Merryweather, but this one-to-two inning role has always been his most sensible landing spot. If he can stay healthy, Merryweather is an underrated bullpen piece.