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'That's what aces do': Ryu picks up Blue Jays

@KeeganMatheson
September 2, 2020

Hyun Jin Ryu embraced the less glamorous side of being an ace on Wednesday night in Miami as he carved his way through the Marlins’ lineup, mop and bucket in hand, cleaning up nearly every mess that was made behind him. The Blue Jays fell back into old habits with

Hyun Jin Ryu embraced the less glamorous side of being an ace on Wednesday night in Miami as he carved his way through the Marlins’ lineup, mop and bucket in hand, cleaning up nearly every mess that was made behind him.

The Blue Jays fell back into old habits with a loud thud early in the 2-1 win at Marlins Park, giving away valuable outs with three glaring baserunning blunders in the first four innings alone. Recent trade acquisition Jonathan Villar was responsible for two of those, and he was also involved with some early defensive mistakes. But over and over again, Ryu was there to pick up his teammates.

Box score

“Ryu showed you today that he’s our ace. That’s what aces do,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “If people don’t play good behind him, like that fly ball that should have been caught and the errors we made, he kept making big pitch after big pitch. He was outstanding. That’s what you need, and that’s why he’s an ace.”

It’s a snapshot of what makes this Blue Jays team so difficult to project as they cling to the final American League playoff spot ahead of the Tigers. Some nights, particularly earlier in the season, these fundamental errors pile up at a rate rarely seen in professional baseball. Other nights, they pull all of the right strings at the right time and every ball that touches their bats seems to leave the yard. Wednesday’s win had a bit of both and, even though Toronto’s brand of baseball isn’t always the cleanest, it’s rarely confused with being boring.

Ryu was brilliant in August with his changeup and cutter dominating opposing hitters, which is what kept him rolling against the Marlins’ eager lineup. The veteran lefty knew when to attack, often challenging the Marlins with his fastball up in the zone, but chose the perfect times to ease back with his elite offspeed pitch that wreaks havoc on hitters’ timing. He even flipped in a molasses curveball at 67.3 mph to Garrett Cooper for strike three and the final out of the third inning, so his bag of tricks runs deep.

“You have to understand that kind of guy. It's a style,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He changes speeds. He pitches backwards. It's a different look. So you have to have a disciplined approach with him. And he still puts you in a bind because he can do so many things with the ball.”

He may have saved his best for last, though. On Ryu’s 98th pitch of the night, he sailed a fastball high to move to a full count against Jorge Alfaro with the tying run on third. It looked for a moment like the stressful day was catching up to Ryu, but he zeroed in and fanned Alfaro with a fantastic cutter low in the zone that ducked under the barrel of the bat as it crossed the plate.

Since the beginning of August, Ryu owns a 1.32 ERA with 39 strikeouts over 34 innings. His first two starts of the season in July were rocky as Ryu settled into his groove with the Blue Jays, but even with those included, his season ERA sits at 2.72, which is exactly what Toronto had in mind when it landed Ryu on a four-year, $80 million deal this past offseason. Starts like Wednesday’s are part of what attracted the Blue Jays to Ryu, too, knowing how much their young roster could benefit from an ace’s example as they went through growing pains like this.

Ryu showed no frustration with those mistakes made behind him, though, both when they happened or following the game. He has been through this before and will go through it again, but part of what makes Ryu rock steady on the mound is his ability to cut out the noise and stay focused on that old sports cliche of controlling what he can control.

“It’s not like they go out there trying to make mistakes, so there’s nothing you can control about that,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “I don’t have any problem when it comes to players trying to make plays and making mistakes or resulting in errors, whether it’s baserunning or fielding behind me. As a starting pitcher, I’m more focused on putting up zeros so we still have a chance to win.”

Ryu shares Wednesday’s win with Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who provided the entire offense with one swing of the bat in the fifth inning on a two-run homer. Gurriel’s fifth blast of the season came on a slider that he launched 408 feet, marking the Blue Jays’ first home run since Friday.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.