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Hard work returns Ryu to Blue Jays rotation |


TORONTO – Hyun-Jin Ryu couldn’t wait to get to work.

Having just undergone the second Tommy John surgery of his career — the first procedure on his ulnar collateral ligament happened when he was a teenager — the 36-year-old pitcher knew that with a dedicated rehabilitation he could recover in a relatively short time frame after going under the knife in June 2022.

That disciplined approach has paid off, with the South Korean left-hander set to return to the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles.

“The most important thing I really thought about during the rehab process was to prevent myself from any setbacks or anything that had to shut me down,” Ryu said through translator Jun Sung Park in the Blue Jays clubhouse Saturday. “I did that pretty well, so that’s probably the key thing that I was really focused on.”

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Ryu signed a four-year, US$80 million with Toronto as a free agent in December 2019.

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He earned a 5-2 record with a 2.69 earned-run average and 72 strikeouts in 12 games the following season. His impressive numbers in the 2020 season shortened by COVID-19 saw him finish third in voting for the American League Cy Young Award. He also won the Warren Spahn Award as the majors’ best left-handed pitcher.

Ryu was solid against in 2021, going 14-10 with a 4.37 ERA and 143 strikeouts over 31 games. But he struggled through his six starts in 2022, earning just two wins with a 5.67 ERA before undergoing the second Tommy John surgery of his career last summer.

It can take up to 18 months to recover from that kind of operation, and given his age and the fact that his contract expires in the coming off-season, many Blue Jays fans feared that his time in Toronto might be done.

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But Ryu was determined.

“Obviously, the most important thing was recovery,” Ryu said with the Warren Spahn Award sitting beside his locker. “Trying to get back in shape was a key thing and, after that, just trying to get the pitch counts up and then innings up so I could come back to the roster.”

Although recipients of Tommy John surgery typically see an increase in pitch velocity, it takes more time for their control to return. But after a bullpen session at Rogers Centre on Saturday morning, Blue Jays manager John Schneider was impressed with his returning starter’s command.

“It’s just kind of who he is,” said Schneider, who sat in on the session. “Unbelievable feel for pitching and in a class by himself when it comes to command of the ball.

“For where he is right now in terms of recovery, it’s pretty impressive. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised though.

“He’s pretty damn good.”

Toronto will switch to a six-man rotation with Ryu’s return, just in time for a critical stretch of games against American League East rivals Baltimore and Boston.

However, Ryu said Tuesday’s start will be no different than any other game in his lengthy career.

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“As a starting pitcher, I want to make sure that I provide the platform for our team to win,” he said. “As long as I can do what a starter needs to do, it doesn’t really matter what team I’m going to be facing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2023.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press


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