Hyun-Jin Ryu was on the mound in Dunedin on Tuesday serving notice to New York Yankees hitters of his ace status the American League.
Now if only he could have some more high-powered company joining him in the Blue Jays starting nine.
The grim medical news surrounding the Jays took another two-pronged hit prior to a 7-3 win over the Bronx Bombers at TD Ballpark, most notably with the revelation that the team’s top player from 2020, Teoscar Hernandez, tested positive for COVID-19.
Add to that the return to health of $150-million man George Springer continues to move along at an agonizingly plodding pace for a team looking to get off to a quick start and to reap the potential of the former Astros star.
Undaunted by the pre-game prognosis, the Jays followed with one of their more complete games of the young season, however. The crafty left arm of Ryu has rarely been more effective and with some run support from the still-deep lineup, the veteran helped his team improve to 5-6.
Once again, the resilience of manager Charlie Montoyo’s team is being put to the test in a March-April stretch that could barely have gone worse from a health standpoint.
First to Hernandez, who entered the season with such promise, coming off a Silver Slugger award from a breakout 2020 season. After being exposed to someone who had tested positive this past Friday, the outfielder was placed in isolation.
He was tested daily since, with negative results until Tuesday when he tested positive, kicking in MLB protocols which mandate that Hernandez goes into a 10-day, no-contact isolation.
Of potentially greater concern is the fact that the outfielder has been suffering at least mild symptoms, according to Montoyo.
Hernandez hasn’t had contact with the team since last Thursday, which could be viewed as a good thing. We’ve seen how the virus can paralyze a sports team, even one that has been as meticulous with protocols as the Jays, who didn’t have a positive test during the 2020 season.
“Obviously it’s something we all have to be more cautious about, whether at your own house, or the field, our outside,” Ryu said through a team translator following Tuesday’s game. “It’s one of those things where you have to take care of your own body.”
Complicating matters is the ongoing vaccination of Jays players, a process staggered so as to avoid players affected by reactions. Players already vaccinated were administered does of Johnson and Johnson, which are now on pause in the U.S.
The bottom line for Hernandez’s return is still unknown, but he already has missed four games and will miss a minimum of seven more. While in isolation, the outfielder will be monitored by the Jays medical staff and must be cleared by both the league and the team.
“I feel bad for Teo — he’s one of our best players,” said Jays second baseman Marcus Semien. “Just praying for a speedy recovery. We have to take this stuff seriously. That’s why all these protocols are in place.”
The status of Springer has its own complications. The team may have been encouraged by the fact that he took batting practice prior to Tuesday’s game, but Montoyo said the former Astros star will not accompany the Jays on a seven-game, eight-day road trip beginning Thursday in Kansas City.
Springer’s original injury, the Grade 2 oblique strain, has mostly healed, according to the team, but he hasn’t been able to run because of his second setback, what was originally billed as a mild quad strain.
“The whole idea behind him staying back is going to the alternate site and getting as many at-bats as he can get and keep going with his rehab,” Montoyo said. “But he’s doing better. It’s all about the running now.”
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START HIM UP
Ryu frustrated Yankees hitters (and amateur umps in the visitors dugout) with his seven strikeouts over 6.2 innings for his first win of the season.
The South Korean southpaw was brilliant, holding the Yankees to just four hits and lowering his ERA to 1.89.
“Ryu’s our ace and he threw like that tonight,” said Semien, who hit his team-leading fourth homer.
Ryu is certainly cementing his presence at the top of the Jays rotation and has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in 12 of his past 13 starts.
“He was vintage Ryu,” Montoyo said of his ace, who has pitched into the seventh inning in three of his past four starts. “He was painting the corners, keeping hitters off balance. We didn’t know from the bench what pitch was coming next.
“The whole team knew he was on. He was outstanding.”
Reliever David Phelps had to exit in the eighth after taking a line-drive clocked at 106 miles per hour off his back. Back contusion was the diagnosis. And even more injury news: Reliever Julian Merryweather didn’t return to pitch the ninth because of what the team called “hip irritation.” … The extended absence of both Springer and Hernandez creates a land of opportunity for some and outfielder Josh Palacios seems ready to take advantage. A two-run RBI single with two out in the second inning got the Jays on the scoreboard … There were some other noteworthy offensive contributions. In no particular order: A Rowdy Tellez home run in the fifth, his first of the season, that earned him the silent treatment in the Blue Jays dugout. Two-hit nights from Bo Bichette (who extended his on-base streak to 10 games), Vlad Guerrero Jr. (who has now reached in every game this season) and Cavan Biggio.