Even the “monster rookie” who was all the rage in the major leagues was easily caught. Throwing this well, I think he should definitely play in the big leagues next year. He still has a long way to go before he returns to Korea. This is the story of the “Korean Monster” Ryu Hyun-jin (36, Toronto Blue Jays).
When Hyun-jin Ryu underwent ligament reconstruction surgery on his left elbow in June of last year, many questioned his comeback. With a year of rehabilitation required after the surgery, and the fact that he was already in his late 30s, it seemed like a long shot.
Ryu is already considered a pitcher past his prime. After going 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA in 2019 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and leading the National League in ERA, Ryu had one of the best seasons of his career, finishing second in the National League Cy Young Award voting that year. He then hit free agency, signing a four-year, $80 million deal with Toronto to start over.
Of course, even then, there were those who questioned his ability to succeed. He was entering the American League East, a notoriously tough division filled with powerhouses. But worry was a luxury. Ryu maintained his “monster pitcher” status during the 2020 season, his first in Toronto. Sure, it was a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but his 5-2 record and 2.69 ERA silenced the concerns of those around him. He was good enough to finish third in the American League Cy Young Award voting that year.
Naturally, Ryu was the Opening Day starter again in 2021, but it was Yong-Do Sami’s season. Robbie Ray usurped the ace role by pitching so well that he won the American League Cy Young Award, and midway through the season, Jose Berrios joined Toronto in a trade, and Ryu’s spot in the rotation began to slip away. While he still managed to win a career-high 14 games, his ERA spiked to 4.37 and there was no escaping the fact that his downward spiral was beginning to show.
As a result, rumors of Ryu’s return to Korea began to surface. After this season, Ryu’s four-year, $80 million free agent contract with Toronto ends. This means that Ryu could return to Korea if he so chooses.
Ryu started his professional career with the Hanwha Eagles in 2006. He played for Hanwha until 2012, where he was one of the best aces in the KBO with a career ERA in the low 2s (2.80) and nearly 100 wins (98). It’s been more than a decade since he left Hanwha for the major leagues, but that doesn’t mean they’ve grown apart.
Ryu Hyun-jin showed that they are still close by allowing him to join the spring training camp Hanwha organized in Geoje when his departure was delayed due to the Major League Baseball lockout in February last year. Ryu also joined Hanwha’s spring training camp for a short time, saying, “I don’t know when it will be. What’s certain is that I will definitely come back. I will finish my career with Hanwha. That mindset hasn’t changed,” promising to finish his career with Hanwha.
However, it is unlikely that Ryu will return to Korea next year. Ryu returned to the mound after more than a year of rehabilitation following surgery, and he has shown signs of resurgence, going 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA in four games since his return.
Ryu’s real breakout moment came on April 21 against the Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati is a team that was once on a 12-game winning streak. They are also a team that has retooled their lineup with young hitters, led by “monster rookie” Eli De La Cruz.
Ryu threw 83 pitches over five innings, including two strikeouts against Dela Cruz, allowing four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts and two runs (unearned) in a 10-3 victory. The five home runs the Toronto offense hit on the day seemed like a “celebration” of Ryu’s victory.
The one against Dela Cruz was the highlight. Ryu got Dela Cruz to ground out to third base on two pitches in the first inning with an 87-mph (140-kilometer) four-seam fastball. In the bottom of the third inning, Ryu again faced Dela Cruz on a full count and threw him a six-pitch, 66-mph (106-kilometer) slow curveball to induce a false swing and get a strikeout.
It happened again in the bottom of the fifth inning with runners on first and second. After a 78-mph (126-kilometer) outside changeup for a light strike in the first inning, Ryu threw an 88-mph (142-kilometer) four-seam fastball in the second inning to induce a wild swing, followed by a 67-mph (108-kilometer) curveball. Dela Cruz could only stare as Ryu’s curveball penetrated the lower strike zone.
Dela Cruz is a monster rookie who has been called a “natural” hitter. He burst onto the scene in June of this year with a .257 batting average, .309 on-base percentage, .455 slugging percentage, and .764 OPS, along with 10 home runs, 27 RBIs, and 19 stolen bases. He’s already been touted as the next big thing since his major league debut. He’s only 21 years old this year. He has a “blossoming career” ahead of him.
Still, it was a complete game win for Ryu. His four-seam fastball barely touched the 140-kilometer mark, but it wasn’t all about velocity. He utilized his curveball, which has a much higher velocity, to create some confusion. For hitters, Ryu’s changeup is not the only pitch they have to worry about.
From the beginning, Ryu had a “100 percent game plan” on how to effectively cook the Cincinnati lineup. He knew the Cincinnati bats would be aggressive with a lot of young hitters. “I knew they were going to be aggressive, so I focused on getting a favorable pitch count,” Ryu said, indicating that his strategy was 100% successful.
Toronto manager John Schneider said, “Ryu took advantage of the aggressive nature of the Cincinnati hitters. He had a really good stuff,” and MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, wrote, “Ryu is a smart pitcher. He reads opposing hitters’ desire to swing better than anyone else, which makes him very dangerous against young, aggressive hitters.” The official MLB.com website also highlighted Ryu’s clever pitching.
The Toronto team’s social media posts on the day included the Korean phrase, “Ryu Hyun-jin’s form is crazy,” but the best part was the phrase, “Monster Masterclass.” Perhaps the most accurate way to describe Ryu’s pitching. This is probably the most accurate description of Ryu’s pitching. He was like a professor teaching his students on the mound.
Now a seasoned veteran, Ryu’s pitching has shown that he can still be competitive in the big leagues. If Ryu continues to pitch like he has all season, there will be teams that will want him when his four-year deal with Toronto ends this year. Given his age, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to land a big, long-term deal, but he could still make a splash in free agency as a starter who can be used effectively in the short term. As such, Ryu’s return to Korea is still quite some time away.
Given the order of Toronto’s starting rotation, Ryu will be looking for his third win of the season on April 27 at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland is also a team built around young hitters.
Ryu Hyun-jin has already faced the Cleveland bats before, starting a game against them on April 8. He was hit in the right knee by a hard hit ball from Oscar Gonzalez two batters into the bottom of the fourth inning and was unable to continue, but it was a game that showcased his seasoned pitching, as he didn’t allow a hit in four innings. He only allowed one walk and, of course, no runs.온라인바카
His velocity was good enough that he could have pitched a fifth or even a sixth inning if the ball hadn’t hit his knee. His success against Cincinnati was no fluke. We’ve already seen what he’s capable of, so it’s not unreasonable to expect another strong outing.
Now that he’s shown that he’s capable of resurrecting himself, if he maintains this pace for the rest of the season, he’ll have the green light to stay in the majors when he hits free agency at the end of the season.