By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- For both of the South Korean left-handers in Major League Baseball (MLB) this season, things mostly went right in the month of August.
Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals enjoyed a perfect win-loss record in August, while posting strong numbers across the board.
In five August starts, Ryu was 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 28 innings. Pitching in his eighth year in the majors and first with the Blue Jays, Ryu ranked third among all qualifying starters in ERA and came in fifth in walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) with 0.86 in August.
Kim made three starts this month as a rookie for the Cardinals, and was 1-0 with a 0.57 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings. He didn't pitch enough innings to qualify for the monthly leaderboard, though it doesn't take away from his impressive early going as a starter after opening the season as the closer.
Ryu looked a bit shaky in July, pitching to an 8.00 ERA over nine innings in two starts while walking four batters. But he turned into his vintage self in August.
Ryu started the month with five shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves to pick up his first win of 2020 on Aug. 5. He held the Miami Marlins to a run on just two hits in six innings in a no-decision six days later. On Aug. 17, Ryu beat the Baltimore Orioles by holding them to a run in six innings.
He took no-decisions in his last two starts: five innings of one-run ball against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 22 and then the six-inning, two-run performance versus the Orioles on Friday. One of those runs was unearned.
Ryu has issued just one free pass over his three recent starts, spanning 17 innings.
The absence of walks is nice, but Ryu still needs to be more efficient with his pitches. He has yet to go longer than six innings this year -- no Toronto starter has in 2020 -- and as strong as the Jays' bullpen has been, those relievers could use some breather every four or five days when a savvy veteran like Ryu starts. The Blue Jays are fourth in MLB with a 3.17 bullpen ERA but also fourth in relief innings pitched in baseball with 147 2/3 innings.
Ryu threw his season-high 98 pitches last Friday. Despite the unusual nature of this season -- a delayed start, an abbreviated preparation period in summer camp and 60 games squeezed into a tight scheduling window -- Ryu is certainly capable of throwing more pitches. He surpassed the century mark nine times last year and pitched at least seven innings 15 times out of 29 starts.
In his past two starts, Ryu has been burned by pesky opponents who kept fouling off pitches and worked him deep into counts. On Aug. 22, Ryu made 30 pitches to survive the fifth against the Rays. Six days later, he cruised along through five innings against the Orioles with just 67 pitches, and then used 31 pitches to get out of the sixth as the Orioles scored twice.
Efficiency hasn't been an issue for Kim, who has thrown six innings in each of his past two starts while making just 83 and 80 pitches, respectively.
Kim and Ryu are quite different in their approaches. Ryu is a more deliberate type who, without dominant stuff, tries to keep hitters off balance by using five or six different types of pitches. Kim is a straight shooter who primarily relies on fastballs and sliders, with occasional curveballs and changeups.
Kim also works much faster on the mound. As soon as his catcher Yadier Molina puts down the sign, Kim begins his delivery with no hesitation. Molina, a future Hall of Famer, has so much savvy behind the plate that it should make life easier for a big league rookie, such as Kim, who has rarely shaken off the veteran batterymate.
Ryu, on the other hand, still seems to be trying to get on the same page with his two young backstops, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. It's been an adjustment for Ryu, who pitched mostly to veteran Russell Martin in 2019 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kim, though he won't blow by hitters, will sometimes throw three straight fastballs and dare batters to hit them. Ryu often makes the full use of his arsenal in the same at-bat.
During the second inning of the Orioles games Friday, Ryu had his vintage moment. He fell behind 3-0 on Pedro Severino but then threw three straight strikes with three different pitches -- a changeup, four-seam fastball and cutter -- to get the strikeout.
The Blue Jays would certainly like to see more of that, as they continue their improbable march toward the postseason under the expanded format. The top two teams from each division, plus the two "Wild Card" teams with the next best records in their league, will qualify for the postseason.
The Blue Jays were initially seen as being at least another year away from challenging for a playoff spot. But through Sunday's action, they were holding down the second wild-card spot in the American League (AL) at 18-14, two games ahead of the Detroit Tigers. The Blue Jays are also just one game back of the New York Yankees for second place in the AL East.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, were in second place in the National League Central at 12-13, 3.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals are playing catch-up after missing two weeks at the start of August following a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. They have seven sets of doubleheaders coming up in September.
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