When you’re the team’s most indispensable, valuable and most dependable player, even a minor injury is viewed as something major.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, the crafty and stoic ace of the Blue Jays staff, made an early game departure Sunday at the Trop, where Toronto’s bullpen spearheaded the team’s 1-0 win over the Rays to claim the three-game series against an AL East rival.
But for most of the day and into the early evening, it was all about Ryu and why he was forced to leave in the fourth inning after he gave up a hit on a day when the host Rays managed to produce five hits.
The lefty left the rubber match in St. Petersburg, Fla., after yielding a two-out single to Manuel Margot.
Everyone associated with the franchise held its collective breath, including manager Charlie Montoyo.
“I just talked to him,” said Montoyo during his post-game Zoom call. “I told him: ‘Yeah, you just scared me.'”
As it turns out, Ryu suffered a minor glute strain, an ailment he has dealt with in the past.
It’s nothing serious, assured the soft-spoken Ryu.
In fact, he didn’t even view it as an injury when he held court virtually, brushing off any notion the minor strain will land him on the injured list.
“He’s walking fine,” added Montoyo. “That’s great news. Of course, things go through your mind, an oblique or something. He said he should be fine. We’ll see.”
Ryu says he’ll prepare like he normally would.
His next scheduled start is Saturday.
“I’ll check how I feel (Monday),” said Ryu.
Just to double-check, Ryu said he might have a side session, throwing anywhere from 10 to 15 pitches.
“Starting (Monday) it’ll be a regular day again,” he added.
Ryu said it was the right decision to come out of the game.
He did add how he felt something was wrong, something loose.
Ryu underwent some tests inside the trainer’s room.
“I’m fine,’’ he said. “Pretty happy.”
As Montoyo would say, Ryu was dealing, in complete control for 3.2 innings when he threw what appeared to be a routine changeup Margot sent to centre field for a base hit.
Ryu then crouched down before circling the mound and summoned for help from the dugout with Montoyo, pitching coach Pete Walker and Ryu’s interpreter joining the pitcher on the mound for a quick conference. Ryu headed to the dugout with what the team said was a minor right glute strain.
Montoyo was asked what was going through his mind when his ace departed the game.
“I can’t say what I was thinking,” he said.
Ryu threw 62 pitches, including 43 for strikes, fanning five, yielding three hits and no walks.
The Jays have been dealing with all kinds of setbacks and yet they’ve managed to post a 10-11 record heading into Monday’s off-day.
Toronto opens a homestand in Dunedin against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, when Montoyo will go with an opener in Trent Thornton.
There’s a starting staff that needs to be cobbled together and then there are the ongoing defensive struggles when Bo Bichette is at shortstop and Cavan Biggio at third.
On Sunday, Bichette was the Jays’ DH, while Montoyo put Biggio in right field.
Not surprisingly, Montoyo admitted how his brain was fried given the circumstances he and his staff have been forced to manage.
George Springer has played in more simulated games than real games. Toronto’s big free-agent signing has yet to play, in fact, but his debut appears imminent.
Teoscar Hernandez, who tested positive for COVID earlier in the month, is also closer to a return.
The backbone to this Jays team has been its bullpen, which is also dealing with injuries.
After Ryu was forced to leave the game, Montoyo turned to Tim Mayza, who gave up two hits.
Tyler Chatwood, Ryan Borucki and David Phelps each recorded a strikeout, while not surrendering a hit.
After giving up a two-out walk in the eighth, Phelps was replaced by Rafael Dolis, who recorded the final out of the inning.
In the ninth, Dolis retired the side to record the save, his second of the season in three games.
Toronto’s series win in Tampa Bay was its first since August 2019.
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DEFENDING BO AND BIGGIO
John Schneider has risen through the farm system with Biggio and Bichette.
“They’re mentally tough, they have been since I have met them,” said major league coach. “Our goal for them is that when things are tough is to let them figure it out a little bit.
“There are times where we’re going to try to give them a blow physically, or mentally like any player. But when the stuff is kind of hitting them a little bit, they’re pretty good at responding in a positive way.
“You don’t want to beat a dead horse, so to say, and just keep doing the same thing. Every now and then we’ll get them a blow but for the most part, they’re going to grind through it.”
Marcus Semien was at shortstop Sunday, scoring the game’s only run.
Santiago Espinal was at third, knocking in the game’s only run.
Espinal and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. accounted for four of Toronto’s six hits.
Toronto lowered its season ERA from 3.20 to 3.04, the best in team history through the first 21 games … Gurriel Jr.’s bunt single in the fifth inning was the third of his career.