In this Getty Images photo, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Texas Rangers in the top of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Trying to regain consistency with his best pitch, the changeup, Toronto Blue Jays' Ryu Hyun-jin put his head down and got to work in the bullpen during the All-Star break.
And he came out throwing it as well as he has at any point this year.
The South Korean left-hander rode the changeup to a seven-inning shutout of the Texas Rangers at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, on Sunday (local time). Ryu held the opponents to three hits in the first game of a doubleheader for his first complete game shutout since 2019 and his first in a Blue Jays uniform.
Of his 83 pitches, Ryu offered 24 changeups. It generated four groundouts, one flyout and three strikeouts, inducing seven whiffs on 17 swings.
"I was able to command the changeup really well, and I got a lot of swings and misses with the pitch," Ryu said in his postgame Zoom session. "It made my life easy today."
Also notable was an uptick in the average changeup velocity. He touched 85 mph and averaged 83 mph, up from his seasonal average of 79.1 mph.
Sure, Ryu may have felt that extra juice after enjoying his All-Star break. But the increased velocity was also due to a mechanical tweak that allowed him to get on the top of the ball on delivery.
"I tried to raise my arm angle when throwing the changeup, and I was pleased with how it worked out today," Ryu said. "The best changeup is the one you throw using the same arm speed and angle as the fastball. When I was struggling with that pitch (in June), my arm came out slower, and I didn't have the optimal angle."
Ryu said this is how he used to throw his changeup while still pitching in South Korea between 2006 and 2012, and added he'd like to maintain the current form moving forward.
"Because my changeup was so effective today, I could throw other pitches at counts when hitters were anticipating changeups," Ryu said. "That led to a lot of weak contact."
The Rangers hitters swung early in the counts throughout the game. Ryu only threw four pitches to retire the side in order in the first, and had 15 pitches combined to work the fourth and fifth innings.
Ryu has won four of his past five starts and will ride that positive swing into his first game on Canadian soil sometime next month.
The itinerant Blue Jays have spent the past 1 1/2 seasons away from Toronto's Rogers Centre, as the US-Canada border remained closed to nonessential travels during the COVID-19 pandemic. With things opening back up on both sides, the Canadian federal government approved the Blue Jays' bid to come home over the weekend.
After the Rangers' series, the Blue Jays will host the Boston Red Sox for three more games in Buffalo and then go on a seven-game road trip. It will be followed by a 10-game homestand beginning July 30 at Rogers Centre.
Ryu is lined up to pitch twice during the trip against the New York Mets and the Red Sox, and then face either the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 1 or the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 2.
"I am really excited. It's going to be great," said Ryu, who signed a four-year deal with Toronto in late 2019 and has yet to take the mound at Rogers Centre. "I haven't been able to pitch in front of our Toronto fans. Just the thought of doing that for the first time makes me feel happy." (Yonhap)