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Blue Jays name S. Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin Opening Day starter


The Toronto Blue Jays have made official what had been a foregone conclusion: Ryu Hyun-jin will start Opening Day.

The Blue Jays announced Sunday (local time) that the South Korean left-hander will take the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, the first day of the truncated, 60-game season, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Ryu had been widely expected to start the original Opening Day in Toronto on March 28, before the coronavirus pandemic forced Major League Baseball (MLB) to halt spring training in mid-March and postpone the beginning of the regular season.

After spending the first seven years of his big league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ryu joined the Blue Jays on a four-year, $80 million contract. It's the largest deal the Jays have handed out to a free agent pitcher.

Ryu, 33, is coming off his best major league season, in which he finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting and led all big league pitchers with a 2.32 ERA. Ryu also started last year's Opening Day for the Dodgers.

The South Korean became an immediate hit with his new club during spring training, thanks to his strong performance on the mound and his work ethic and selflessness off the field.

The Rays have a South Korean first baseman in Choi Ji-man, and he and Ryu graduated from the same, Dongsan High School, in Incheon, about 40 kilometers west of Seoul. The two have never faced each other in the majors, though with Choi batting left-handed and having generally struggled against southpaws, the matchup may not materialize this week.

The Blue Jays will open the season with five games on the road -- three against the Rays and two more versus the defending World Series champions Washington Nationals -- and they're still trying to figure out where they'll play their home games.

The Canadian government on the weekend denied the Blue Jays' request to play home games in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The same government allowed the Blue Jays to set up training camp in their home city without the 14-day quarantine otherwise required for those entering the country. But it rejected the proposal for a similar plan during the regular season, which would involve both the Blue Jays and visiting clubs flying in from the US getting an exemption from the mandatory quarantine.

The two obvious options at the moment for the Blue Jays are their spring training home in Dunedin, Florida, and their Triple-A home in Buffalo, New York, though each alternative has its flaws.

The brand-new TD Ballpark in Dunedin is good enough to hold major league games, but Florida has been hit hard by COVID-19 in recent weeks, with over 10,000 cases per day.

The situation is better in the state of New York, but Sahlen Field in Buffalo isn't up to big league standards, in terms of its lighting, clubhouse and other facilities. (Yonhap)