In this photo, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the top of the fifth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday. (Yonhap)
For the better part of June, Toronto Blue Jay's starter Ryu Hyun-jin has been trying to regain the command of his changeup, long his bread-and-butter pitch.
He has even had in-between-starts bullpen sessions, something the veteran left-hander rarely does. And that extra work seems to be paying dividends.
Ryu picked up his seventh win of the season against the Baltimore Orioles at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday (local time). Ryu gave up four runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 12-4 rout, and those numbers looked far worse than the way he pitched for the most part.
Ryu sat down 15 straight batters at one point and needed only 62 pitches to put together six shutout innings. Things fell apart in the seventh, when the Orioles roughed up Ryu for five hits and four runs, and chased him from the game with two outs.
The important takeaway from this ho-hum victory was how much better his changeup looked, compared with his earlier starts this month.
When Ryu beat the same Orioles last Sunday, giving up just one run in seven innings, he had to get by with fastballs and cutters. He threw only 17 changeups out of his 100 pitches, and those changeups generated just one whiff on 11 swings.
In this game, Ryu threw 26 changeups out of 91, right around his season average usage rate. Baltimore hitters took 13 swings at the pitch and fanned on it three times. Ryu also had five changeups called for strikes.
"I felt so much better with my changeup today compared to a couple of earlier starts," Ryu said in his postgame Zoom session. "I felt things were getting better during my bullpen session. I tried to pitch with a better balance, improve my mechanics and have the same arm speed for different pitches."
Ryu said he stuck to his game plan by mixing every pitch in his arsenal. The usual quartet of his pitches -- fastball, changeup, cutter and curveball -- was joined by a slider, which Ryu threw twice.
"In every start, I try to generate soft contact, and things worked out well until the seventh inning," Ryu said. "The opposing hitters were aggressive early in the count and that helped me keep the pitch count low."
An otherwise strong start came undone in the seventh inning. Ryu, whose disdain for walks is well documented, said the two-out free pass to Maikel Franco that loaded the bases bothered him the most. It kept the rally alive for the Orioles, as Pedro Severino and Cedric Mullins each delivered two-run hits.
"Even with a home run there, I would only have given up three runs," Ryu said. "After that walk, I ended up allowing four runs. That was the most disappointing part of the game for me."
Ryu reached a small milestone in this game. By recording three strikeouts, Ryu now has second-most strikeouts by a South Korean-born pitcher in major league history.
With 809 in 897 innings, Ryu broke a tie with former Arizona Diamondbacks closer Kim Byung-hyun, who had 806 Ks in 841 innings.
Park Chan-ho, the first South Korean to play in the bigs, leads the all-time list with 1,715 strikeouts in 1,993 innings for seven franchises, most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When told of his feat, Ryu said: "I didn't know I'd come this far. I am very pleased and thankful to have accomplished this." (Yonhap)