TORONTO -- Buried beneath the biggest collection of cameras and reporters the Blue Jays’ Spring Training stadium has seen in years on Thursday afternoon was Hyun-Jin Ryu, the new ace.
The definition of an “ace,” like the broader umbrella term of “elite,” isn’t always something that’s agreed on. True No. 1 starters are compared to their peers who top other rotations -- like Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer -- but to a certain extent, the ace tag depends on the team, too.
In Toronto, Ryu fits it, and manager Charlie Montoyo agrees.
“He’s an ace,” Montoyo said, repeatedly expressing his excitement over the signing. “What that means is that, every time he takes the mound, we’ve got a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for as a manager and as a team.”
The 32-year-old lefty is coming from a much different situation with the Dodgers where he was surrounded by stars in the rotation. From Clayton Kershaw to Walker Buehler, Rich Hill and beyond, the Dodgers didn’t need Ryu to be “the guy” in the way that the Blue Jays soon will.
Ryu doesn’t read much into the ace tag, himself, but he also understands the reality of what’s happening here.
“To be honest, I’m just another player. We win games by having all the players put in their effort,” Ryu said through interpreter Bryan Lee. “At the same time, I do realize the expectation and the weight that comes with this kind of contract, and I know exactly what the Blue Jays want from me. So I’m definitely going to try to talk to the younger players because we have a very young core and if I can, I’d like to be their mentor and really work things as a team.”
Ryu threw his first bullpen session of Spring Training at the club’s training complex on Thursday, totaling 33 pitches. He’s also been throwing for the past two weeks as he’s gotten to know his new organization, including longtime Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker.
For Walker and Matt Buschmann -- the club’s bullpen coach and director of pitching development -- much of the focus has been on the young arms vying for the No. 5 job, so the additions of Ryu, Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark have to come as a welcome balance. In Ryu’s case, Walker is focused on letting him do his own thing first, then they can build from there.
“Veteran pitchers, they've been around. We want to make sure they're comfortable doing their thing,” Walker said. “We're going to learn exactly what they like and when the time comes, we'll make suggestions. But right now, it's about making them as comfortable as possible, as soon as possible.”
Vlad watch, 2020 edition
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was one of many young position players getting in some early work on Thursday, going through fielding drills and taking batting practice. It will take time to see how Guerrero’s offseason impacts his body, but Montoyo is pleased early.
“He had an outstanding offseason,” Montoyo said. “This guy worked his butt off. It was good to see. He’s in good shape and he’s ready to go.”
Biggio seems locked in at second base
There’s been plenty of talk about Cavan Biggio’s potential to play a super utility role -- even including center field -- but there doesn’t seem to be much traction right now.
“The one thing about Cavan is that he’s so good, he can play anywhere,” Montoyo said. “But he played so good at second base that, right now, he’s my second baseman.”
Big, bright spotlight
Thursday’s massive media contingent was a shock for many players arriving in the morning, but not for Ryu, whose fame is difficult to overstate in South Korea, where the appetite for baseball knows no end. It was a shock for Montoyo, too, but he had a practice run back in 2012 with a Japanese legend on his roster.
“No, I’ve never seen that, not that many,” Montoyo said. “But I’m kind of used to it because, at one time in Triple-A, I had [Hideki] Matsui, so we had a lot of media from Japan. Of course, it wasn’t Korea, but this is pretty cool.”