DUNEDIN, Fla. – Hyun-Jin Ryu is now the clear ace of a major league rotation — with all the pressure and responsibility that comes with that.
“We win games by having all the players put in their efforts,” Ryu said through a translator Thursday. “At the same time, I do realize the expectation and the weight that comes with this kind of contract and what the Blue Jays wanted, and I know exactly what the Blue Jays want from me.”
What Toronto needs is some stability in its rotation. The Blue Jays used 21 different starters last year, then made several additions in the off-season. Ryu was the most prominent acquisition, signing a four-year, $80 million contract after finishing second in the National League Cy Young Award vote with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ryu was the only NL pitcher to receive a first-place vote for the Cy Young besides winner Jacob deGrom, but pitching in Los Angeles, it was easy for the left-hander to be overshadowed by the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Ryu went 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA last season but made only one appearance for the Dodgers in their five-game loss to Washington in the Division Series.
Now Ryu is with a Toronto team that lost 95 games in 2019, but this is a chance for the South Korean standout to show he can remain among baseball’s elite starters.
Ryu, who turns 33 next month, began his recent ascent in earnest during the 2018 season, when he went 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts. He was limited by groin problems that year, and he accepted a $17.9 million qualifying offer to stay with Los Angeles for 2019.
Last year, he made 29 starts and pitched 182 2/3 innings, his highest totals since 2013. He allowed only three runs in the entire month of May and still had an ERA under 2.00 in mid-August.
Having answered at least some questions about his durability, Ryu says he’s trying to prepare for this season by repeating what’s worked in the past.
“I’m getting ready for the season gradually and not really forcing things,” he said Thursday, after the Blue Jays held their first workout for pitchers and catchers. “Making sure that my body’s ready to maintain certain type of workloads. I think I was able to do that pretty well, so I’m trying to do the same for this year.”
Toronto’s staff also includes several other new additions. Right-handers Tanner Roark and Shun Yamaguchi signed for two years, and the Blue Jays acquired right-hander Chase Anderson in a trade. An improved rotation could pay major dividends for a team that has plenty of young position players to be excited about.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doesn’t even turn 21 until next month, and fellow infielders Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio got good experience last season as well. Ryu gives Toronto a proven veteran on the pitching side.
“I was really excited when we got him, of course,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He was one of the best pitchers last year in baseball. When we got him, I was excited. We got an ace.”
So the Blue Jays are clear about their hopes for Ryu, who has pitched like an ace for much of the past two seasons. He might downplay the importance of that distinction a bit, but he’s aware of the expectations.
“On any given night,” he said, “going out on the mound and putting the team in a position where they can win.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister