TORONTO -- Hyun Jin Ryu will soon undergo left elbow surgery to repair his UCL, ending his 2022 season.
It is possible that Ryu could need a full Tommy John surgery, with the second option being a more minor partial repair to the UCL. This will be determined during the procedure, which will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
The Blue Jays have sought out multiple opinions with Ryu recently, as he continued to experience forearm and elbow issues, but the organization remains hopeful that the 35-year-old left-hander will only require the more minor of the two procedures and return to pitch at some point during the 2023 season.
“There’s not a ton of research that the partial would be shorter,” said general manager Ross Atkins on Tuesday. “Is it a third shorter? Is it a quarter shorter? It’s based on the patient, the rehab and the actual repair. It would be less if it is a partial repair, though.”
Instead of an “acute” injury, which could be immediate inflammation or a tear to the UCL, this is a “chronic” injury that’s developed over time for Ryu as his ligament stretched out. In his last outing prior to hitting the IL, Ryu’s fastball was sitting near just 87 mph as the veteran clearly battled through at less than 100 percent.
“He’s extremely disappointed,” Atkins said. “He just got to the point where he just wanted to compete as quick as humanly possible. We felt like this was the best thing to do that. We’re focused on him doing that for us. Obviously, he’s professional and he’s a very tough individual who has perspective, but he’s disappointed that he won’t be part of this in the near term.”
Ryu is in the third year of a four-year, $80 million deal signed prior to the 2020 season, one that represented the first steps of the Blue Jays moving from a rebuilding club to a contender. Since then, names like George Springer, José Berríos and Kevin Gausman have been added atop this young core, but it started with Ryu.
In that first season, which was shortened to 60 games due to COVID, Ryu pitched to a 2.69 ERA over 12 starts, finishing third in AL Cy Young Award voting. In the 37 starts since, though, Ryu has posted a 4.55 ERA and dealt with these lingering arm issues several times.
Both Atkins and manager Charlie Montoyo went out of their way to praise what Ryu has given the Blue Jays, first as the ace of the staff and later as a veteran to whom younger arms looked up.
“Everybody loves him,” Montoyo said. “He’s always smiling and having fun with everybody. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood. Even if he had a tough outing, he was always the same guy. You have to appreciate that about Ryu. He’s a really good teammate.”
The Blue Jays have the luxury of Ross Stripling on their roster, and he has slid into Ryu’s rotation spot with great ease. Few pitchers in baseball know that versatile role better than Stripling, but at this point, he seems to be a lock to remain a starter through the remainder of the season.
More will be needed from Yusei Kikuchi, who has flashed some exciting potential but also struggled to find consistency -- including in Tuesday night's 6-5 loss to the Orioles. Thomas Hatch would be the next starter up from Triple-A Buffalo if a need arose, while Nate Pearson, Bowden Francis and Casey Lawrence represent further depth options. Regardless, it’s clear that the starting rotation now needs to be a priority.
“We could think of it creatively,” Atkins said, “then obviously we have to consider Deadline opportunities and trade acquisitions that could bolster our depth there.”
This isn’t what Ryu or the Blue Jays envisioned when his four-year deal was signed, of course, but such is the risk of a starter in his mid-30s with an injury history. For now, both sides will hope for positive news coming out of the surgery, but Toronto will need to push towards the postseason without the man who punched its ticket in ‘20.