36 years old, two surgeries, low odds… How did Ryu succeed?

How did Ryu Hyun-jin successfully pitch his way back from a tough comeback?

안전놀이터This is the perfect picture of the Korean Monster, Ryu Hyun-jin. Not only is he on a personal winning streak, but he has erased all post-surgery concerns. Hyun-jin Ryu pitched five innings and allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits (two home runs) with five strikeouts against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Sunday. Picked up his third win of the season in an 8-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

After earning his first win of the season on April 14 against the Chicago Cubs (5 innings, 2 runs, no decision), Ryu has now won three straight games, including a 5 inning, 2 run decision against the Cincinnati Reds on April 21.

How did Ryu pitch?

Ryu got off to a rough start. In the bottom of the first inning, he gave up a 141 mph fastball to Cleveland Ramirez for a solo home run over the left field fence.

It was the first time in four games that Ryu had allowed an earned run since his return from surgery on Aug. 2 against Baltimore (five innings, nine hits, four runs) when he gave up a home run to Gunner Henderson in the sixth inning. The run ended Ryu’s streak of consecutive scoreless innings at 14.

In the second, he struck out the first batter he faced, Andres Jimenez, on a wild pitch. He followed that up with a swinging strikeout of Gabriel Arias to end the inning.

Ryu’s batting performance continued. He gave up a leadoff double to Cam Gallagher in the third inning, but retired the next two batters in order to prevent any further damage. In the fourth, he struck out the side to end the inning. In the fifth, he gave up a solo shot to left to Tyler Freeman with one out, but no further damage was done.

Photo via USA Today/Yonhap

Photo via AP/Yonhap

Ryu got through the fifth inning on 60 pitches. He then took the mound for the sixth inning. It was here that the Toronto infield came up short. After giving up a leadoff single to Cole Calhoun, he induced Jose Ramirez to ground into an infield single, but Toronto third baseman Matt Chapman made a throwing error. With runners on first and second, Oscar Gonzalez’s grounder to shortstop Santiago Espinal was misplayed, leaving the bases loaded.

At this point, Ryu turned the mound over to bullpen pitcher Garcia and walked down the mound. However, Garcia allowed Ramon Loreano to hit a hard grounder to short, allowing Cal Hoon, Ryu’s designated hitter, to score and extend the lead to three. From there, Garcia retired the next three batters to preserve the win.

Ryu threw a total of 70 pitches on the day. He threw his fastball the most (29), followed by his changeup (19), curve (13), and cut fastball (9). His fastball topped out at 90.8 mph (146 km/h).

Photo via Toronto Blue Jays social media

Photo via Toronto’s social media

At 36 years old and two surgeries later, Ryu is back on his feet

Ryu has undergone two surgeries since reaching the major leagues. In May 2015, he underwent a labral tear in his left shoulder. It was a shoulder surgery with a relatively low chance of rehabilitation success, but he pitched successfully. In June of last year, he underwent Tommy John surgery (elbow ligament splicing).

Tommy John surgery is known to have a higher chance of success than shoulder surgery. However, Ryu had undergone Tommy John surgery once before, in April 2004, when he was a sophomore at Dongsan High School. Although it was the same surgery, history has shown that the second surgery has a lower success rate than the first. Add to that the fact that Ryu is 36 years old, and it’s hard to imagine him recovering quickly. As a result, local media and baseball experts expressed negative opinions about Ryu’s return.

Despite this, Ryu bounced back. This season, Ryu has a .211 batting average and a 1.00 walks allowed per inning (WHIP), making him as good as he was in his prime.

What’s the secret to Ryu’s success?

Ryu’s style has changed. Instead of using his fastball, he’s gone for a changeup and a slower, more accurate pitch. His new weapon was the Arirang curve.

This season, Ryu’s average curveball velocity is 113 kilometers per hour, one of the lowest in MLB (342nd). The reason why batters don’t hit the ball despite his slow velocity is because his curve has a large drop. In the three wins, Ryu’s curveball averaged 109 mph, which is slower than his season average. In the end, giving up velocity and increasing the angle of his changeup was the key to his success.

“Look at this beautiful slow curveball,” MLB.com wrote, referring to Ryu’s 104-kilometer curveball against Andres Jimenez in the bottom of the fourth inning for a swinging strikeout.

Photo by AP/Yonhap

Photo via Toronto’s social media

‘Keep going’ for the Korean Monster

MLB.com’s Keegan Matthiessen called Ryu “sharp and effective across the board.” The Toronto Sun, a local Toronto media outlet, also praised him for “confusing hitters with a good changeup.”

Ryu himself was pleased with his performance, saying, “It was good to get my body back in shape. I can’t throw fastballs, but I’m healthy,” he said.

“The most important thing for me now is my pitches. It’s not just the curveball, it’s all the pitches that are working for me,” he added.

Toronto manager John Schneider agreed, saying that Ryu pitched efficiently and sensibly: “He’s an outstanding veteran left-hander. “He’s a great veteran left-hander. He’s accurate, he’s clean, and he has the ability to get himself out of trouble.

Looking at Toronto’s starting rotation schedule, Ryu’s next start is scheduled for September 2 against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Colorado. It will be interesting to see if Ryu can extend his personal record to four straight wins.

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