TORONTO – Since debuting with the Toronto Blue Jays last summer, Hyun-Jin Ryu has pitched like an ace.
Not only is he exceptionally dominant, he’s so unpredictable that his own receivers sometimes have trouble anticipating what’s next, and the few running backs that do arrive are almost never comfortable enough to even attempt a stolen base. It adds to a combination of frustration for opponents and a below 3.00 lifetime ERA for Ryu.
Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays have gotten used to winning when Ryu takes the mound. In fact, they had never lost consecutive Ryu starts before falling 5-2 to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, but poor defense cost the Blue Jays early, White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel kept the visitors out of balance. all night and Chicago took the series 2-1.
The resulting loss gives the Blue Jays a 31-29 record, but it would be unfair to attribute much of it to Ryu, who pitched much better than against the Houston Astros last Friday. Working with catcher Riley Adams for the first time, Ryu pitched six innings, allowing three runs on five hits and striking out three.
To be fair, Ryu’s line would have looked very different if he had had an acceptable defense behind him. With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Yermin Mercedes drove a ball into the left-field wall with the kind of lopsided swing Ryu so often generates.
The fly had an expected batting average of .230, which means it should be one out a lot, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s reading of the ball was wrong. Turned to the right, towards the foul line, but the ball what goes towards the center-left. Realizing his mistake, he turned to his left and lunged, but it was too late. The ball landed behind him and Mercedes reached second with a double.
The bad play also meant there were two outs, instead of three, when the next hitter, Yoan Moncada, lined up. And so the inning continued, first with a double by José Abreu and then with a home run by Yasmani Grandal. By the time Ryu returned to the first base dugout, the White Sox were leading 3-0.
For Gurriel Jr., the poorly chosen route fits a larger pattern. Too often his reads cost him opportunities to catch playable elevated balls, and while his throwing arm may make up for some of those mistakes, it’s not good that his starting left dropped, constantly making the position look tough. By using Teoscar Hernandez in place of Gurriel Jr. in situations that demand defense, the Blue Jays suggest they agree.
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Of course, Gurriel Jr. has always hit, and that aspect of his game is vitally important for a team that struggled to score against Keuchel on Thursday.
In the fifth, Marcus Semien followed Joe Panik and Santiago Espinal’s infield singles with a line down the middle that Panik scored and put the Blue Jays on the board. But with running backs on the corners and two outs, Keuchel struck out Bo Bichette to end the threat and preserve Chicago’s lead.
In the next inning, the Blue Jays scored again when Gurriel Jr. singled at home to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who had singled to center to reach and advanced to third on a wild pitch. In the end, that was as close as the Blue Jays could get.
Relievers Anthony Castro and Joel Payamps each allowed one run in relief, as the Blue Jays’ search for quality innings outside the bullpen continued with mixed results. After an impressive outing Wednesday, Castro certainly guarantees more opportunities in close games, even if he homered to Adam Engel this time.
“He’s earned it,” manager Charlie Montoyo said before the game. “You’ll see it more in high-leverage places.”
After the game, the Blue Jays prepared for an overnight flight to Boston followed by a four-game series at Fenway Park. There’s a good chance Cavan Biggio will join them at some point this weekend as he continues to progress from the neck injury that placed him on the disabled list. And while George Springer’s schedule remains uncertain, Nate Pearson may be working his way back into the big league image after striking out six in six scoreless triple-A innings on Thursday.
Regardless of the reinforcements that are nearby, the challenges keep coming for the Blue Jays. After four games at Fenway, another series with the New York Yankees awaits next week before the schedule finally comes to a halt and the opportunity to beat lesser competition finally arrives.