The Toronto Blue Jays' South Korean starting pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin will miss the rest of this season with ligament damage in his left elbow, an injury that also puts the rest of the 35-year-old's big league career in jeopardy.
The team announced, prior to hosting the Baltimore Orioles in Toronto on Tuesday (local time), that Ryu will soon undergo a season-ending left elbow operation. The exact nature of the surgery has not been determined. Ryu will either have a full reconstruction on his ulnar collateral ligament, a procedure commonly known as Tommy John surgery, or he will undergo a partial, more minor repair for his ligament.
Ryu landed on the 15-day injured list (IL) on June 2 with left forearm inflammation, one day after laboring through four painful innings against the Chicago White Sox. Ryu, who had also missed about a month earlier in the season with the same forearm issues, said afterward he'd regretted pitching in that game.
The Blue Jays had been seeking second opinions on Ryu's condition. Last week in Los Angeles, Ryu met with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the same orthopedic surgeon who performed a shoulder operation on Ryu in 2015 and an elbow debridement procedure on the left-hander the following year.
Pitchers who have Tommy John surgery typically miss about a year. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the organization was hopeful that Ryu would only need the more minor option and return to pitch in 2023.
Ryu is currently in the third year of his four-year, US$80 million contract.
"There's not a ton of research that the partial would be shorter," Atkins was quoted as saying by MLB.com. "Is it a third shorter? Is it a quarter shorter? It's based on the patient, the rehab and the actual repair. It would be less if it is a partial repair, though."
According to the Blue Jays, Ryu is dealing with a "chronic" injury with his ligament stretched out, rather than an "acute" inflammation or tear of the ligament.
"He's extremely disappointed," Atkins said. "He just got to the point where he just wanted to compete as quick as humanly possible. We felt like this (operation) was the best thing to do that. We're focused on him doing that for us. Obviously, he's professional, and he's a very tough individual who has perspective, but he's disappointed that he won't be part of this in the near term."
When Ryu signed his deal in December 2019, it was the largest free agent contract awarded to a pitcher in Blue Jays' history. Ryu had just finished runner-up in the National League Cy Young Award voting for the Los Angeles Dodgers and had led Major League Baseball in ERA. Ryu was the first big ticket free agent to join the Blue Jays' talented young core, as the team was trying to take the next steps as a contender. In the ensuing offseasons, the Blue Jays would add other free agents, such as George Springer and Kevin Gausman, to the mix.
In his first season, shortened to 60 games because of COVID-19, Ryu posted a 2.69 ERA in 12 starts and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award race. The Blue Jays also made the postseason for the first time since 2016.
He pitched well in the first half of the 2021 season but faded badly down the stretch, with a 6.21 ERA in August and a 9.20 ERA in September.
That trend continued at the start of this season, as Ryu was roughed up for 11 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings over his first two outings.
Ryu hit the IL on April 17 with left forearm inflammation. He was activated on May 14 and pitched to a 1.72 ERA in three starts the rest of that month.
However, things fell apart again in his first start of June, and now he is staring at an extended absence for the third time in his major league career.
While with the Dodgers, Ryu missed all of the 2015 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. He came back in July 2016 for one start but shut things down again following elbow debridement surgery.
Ryu underwent Tommy John surgery while in high school in South Korea and missed a year. He still dominated the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) after being drafted in 2005, as he won both the regular season MVP and the Rookie of the Year award for the Hanwha Eagles in 2006.
He compiled a 98-52 record with a 2.80 ERA over seven seasons with the Eagles and parlayed that into a six-year, $36 million deal with the Dodgers before the 2013 season.
In 126 games for the Dodgers, Ryu went 54-33 with a 2.98 ERA. He was the All-Star Game starter for the NL in 2019.
As a Blue Jay, Ryu has gone 21-12 with a 4.07 ERA in 49 starts. During his start against the White Sox, Ryu became only the second South Korean pitcher in major league history, after Park Chan-ho, to surpass 1,000 career innings.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo, who had earlier praised Ryu for battling through pain against the White Sox, called the South Korean pitcher "a really good teammate."
"Everybody loves him," Montoyo told reporters. "He's always smiling and having fun with everybody. I've never seen him in a bad mood. Even if he had a tough outing, he was always the same guy. You have to appreciate that about Ryu." (Yonhap)