TORONTO -- Hyun-Jin Ryu is the talk of the town.
When the 32-year-old left-hander officially signed his four-year contract worth $80 million at the end of December, there was an immediate shift in Toronto’s team dynamic and its outlook for the upcoming season. As the Blue Jays head into Spring Training, Ryu’s name continues to be a cause for excitement, with hopes remaining high that he will make a significant impact in the clubhouse and on the field.
“Absolutely,” Blue Jays closer Ken Giles said of the squad’s shift in mindset after the southpaw’s signing. “Especially last year, where our main struggle was pitching, pitching, pitching, signing a guy like him with experience, the young guys coming up can watch and see how it’s done and stuff like that. That’s a great thing and guys are ready to step up to the next level.”
Ryu was a first-time All-Star in 2019, amid a season in which his 2.32 ERA led the Majors. He went 14-5 and threw 182 2/3 innings for the Dodgers, finishing among the top three National League leaders with a 6.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 0.84 home runs allowed per nine innings, a 1.01 WHIP, a .263 opponents’ average and 9.26 baserunners allowed per nine frames.
“We’ve got an ace,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “When you think of the offseason, it was probably [Stephen] Strasburg-[Gerrit] Cole or Cole-Strasburg and then Ryu, in that order or however you want to put it. And we got one of the best pitchers in the offseason that was out there. I thought it was a great move by us.”
Added outfielder Randal Grichuk: “He can pitch, that’s the thing, He doesn’t just go out there and light up the [radar gun] and intimidate guys. He knows how to pitch and he’s going to teach a lot of guys, younger guys, what he knows. He could be a difference-maker for the whole staff.”
Toronto’s staff has seen the most significant changes throughout the offseason, with the additions of Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson to the rotation, as well as Japanese hurler Shun Yamaguchi, who has both rotation and bullpen experience. While the team will benefit from having a bona fide ace on the mound every five days, several Blue Jays are also hoping to learn as much as they can from Ryu along the way.
“I might ask about that cutter -- that kind of changed him,” pitcher Ryan Borucki said of the six-year Major Leaguer and veteran of seven years in the Korean Baseball Organization. “Ever since he’s had that cutter, he’s had a lot of success, and that’s a pitch that I’ve been intrigued with the last year and I’ve wanted to learn, so maybe that will be the first guy I will ask.”
Toronto’s additions have also added a level of competition to Spring Training, as well as much excitement for the 2020 season.
“It’s awesome,” pitcher Trent Thornton said. “We’re looking to win, we’re looking to compete, and bringing in these veteran arms, it’s a good sign. It brings more competition for us young guys, and we’re going to be able to learn a lot more and pick their brains and help the whole team in general.”
Added Borucki: “Everyone’s really excited; it’s just one of those exciting times. We’re an up-and-coming team and we just need a couple of those veteran pieces to put the puzzle together for us. They’re really going to help with the experience that they’ve had in the clubhouse and having that consistent guy out there. So it’s going to be exciting this year.”
After finishing fourth in the American League East last season, with their latest additions, the Blue Jays have a completely different outlook on how far they can take the team this year.
“The sky’s the limit,” pitcher Matt Shoemaker said. “Realistically, the goal is to make the playoffs. That’s our goal, to go out there and win. And we know with the pieces that we added, and potentially more pieces that we could be adding, we know that’s always the mindset and we know that’s very realistic. We’ve just got to go out there and do it and play as a team and do it together.”