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Blue Jays' Ryu Hyun-jin eyes July return from elbow surgery

Dec. 29, 2022 - 09:29 By Yonhap
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin speaks with reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Thursday, before leaving for the United States to continue his rehab from elbow surgery. (Yonhap)

INCHEON -- Toronto Blue Jays starter Ryu Hyun-jin said Thursday he is "right on schedule" in his rehab from his summer elbow operation that had cut his 2022 season short, adding he is targeting a July return to the mound.

Ryu left South Korea for the United States on Thursday morning to continue his recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery he'd had in June this year. The 35-year-old had spent about a month with his family in his native country.

In previous offseasons, Ryu usually headed back to the US in January. There is a stronger sense of urgency this time for Ryu, who will be entering the final year of his four-year, $80 million contract with the Blue Jays. Even if the rest of his rehab goes according to the plan and he makes it back to the hill by July, Ryu will only have a precious few months left in the season to prove his worth heading into free agency.

Before boarding his US-bound flight, Ryu told reporters free agency wasn't even on his mind yet, and he was only focusing on his rehab.

"I met with my surgeon before coming home, and I am right on schedule," Ryu said at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. "At this rate, I should be able to return immediately after the All-Star break (in July). I think I will start getting into rehab games in June. I will try to come back in July and put on good performances for my fans."

As for his status after the 2023 season, Ryu said: "I am thinking about returning as quickly as I can and then pitching well afterward. There's nothing else I can do."

Ryu said he'd been training six days a week while in South Korea, and he had recently begun throwing from 10 meters out. He plans to gradually increase that distance and also the intensity of his tosses.

Ryu's 2022 season ended prematurely in June, with a record of 2-0 and a 5.67 ERA in six starts. The left-hander had initially dealt with some left forearm tightness, and further tests revealed a forearm strain and elbow inflammation.

This was the second Tommy John surgery for Ryu, who had his first as a high school pitching prospect in South Korea in 2004.

As a big leaguer, Ryu missed the entire 2015 season following shoulder surgery while with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He returned in July 2016 but made only one start before shutting things down because of elbow problems.

In 2020, his first season with the Blue Jays 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 2021 but struggled mightily down the stretch, with a 6.21 ERA in August and a 9.20 ERA in September.

That trend continued at the beginning of the 2022 season, as Ryu was roughed up for 11 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings over his first two outings.

Ryu hit the injured list 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. But after one more outing in June, Ryu's season was done.

Even with Ryu sidelined for more than half the season, the Blue Jays made the postseason, with swingman Ross Stripling filling in admirably. Stripling left in free agency, but the Blue Jays signed veteran right-hander Chris Bassitt to fill that void.

Bassitt joins the established trio of Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah and Jose Berrios in the rotation, with Mitch White and Nate Pearson battling for the fifth spot.

"The club has been making trades and signing players to keep moving in the right direction," Ryu said. "Players just have to stay focused on their own performances." (Yonhap)