Blue Jays left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu will undergo elbow surgery, general manager Ross Atkins informed reporters (including Scott Mitchell of TSN Sports). It’s not yet known whether Ryu will require a full Tommy John reconstructive surgery or a partial repair — it’s not uncommon for the extent of the ligament damage to be unclear until the surgeon has actually begun the procedure — but he’ll miss the remainder of the 2022 season in either case.
The former All-Star has been on the injured list for the past two weeks after being diagnosed with a forearm strain and elbow inflammation. It was his second arm-related stint of this season, as he also missed a few weeks between April and May with forearm inflammation. This stay will unfortunately last significantly longer than the first, as Ryu won’t be able to avoid going under the knife this time around.
Ryu has dealt with some arm issues in the past, missing most of the 2015-16 seasons while a member of the Dodgers. He underwent surgery to repair a labrum tear in his shoulder in May 2015, with that injury costing him the entirety of the season. He battled elbow tendinitis the following year, making only one MLB start before being shut down. Ryu returned to pitch in 25 games in 2017, though, and while he’s had a handful of IL stints in the years since then, he’d mostly avoided any arm concerns until recently.
After a 2019 campaign in which Ryu tossed 182 2/3 innings of 2.32 ERA ball, the Jays signed him to a four-year, $80MM free agent deal. Ryu was brilliant during the first season of that contract, taking all 12 turns through the rotation during the shortened campaign and posting a 2.69 ERA. His results took a rather notable step back last year, as he managed a 4.37 mark through 169 frames. Ryu stayed healthy aside from a minor neck issue in September, but he looked more the part of a strike-throwing innings eater than a top-of-the-rotation force.
The 35-year-old never seemed to get comfortable this season, perhaps as a result of his battles with forearm discomfort. He worked 27 innings, pitching to a 5.67 ERA with a personal-low 14.2% strikeout rate. Ryu also posted the worst swinging strike mark of his career (7.6%), and the UCL injury will cut his season short after just six starts.
A specific timeline for his recovery won’t be known until after he goes under the knife, but it’s possible he’s already thrown his final pitch in a Toronto uniform. The South Korean hurler is due the balance of his $20MM salary this season and under contract for $20MM next year, the final season of his deal. If he were to undergo a full reconstructive surgery, it’s possible he’ll miss the entirety of the 2023 campaign.
In the nearer term, the win-now Blue Jays will have to move forward with their rotation alternatives. It’s still a quality group, with offseason signee Kevin Gausman and second-year star Alek Manoah posting excellent numbers. José Berríos has struggled but isn’t in any danger of losing his rotation spot given his track record, while Toronto signed the enigmatic Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year contract over the winter. Swingman Ross Stripling has stepped into the final spot and performed well through seven starts, although he’s coming off a rough 2020-21 stretch.
Atkins acknowledged Ryu’s injury makes it likelier they’ll bolster the group via trade this summer (via Shi Davidi of Sportsnet). He unsurprisingly didn’t tip his hand as to whether they’d look for a stable back-end type or prioritize a higher-impact arm like Oakland’s Frankie Montas or Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo. Toronto should have the payroll flexibility and urgency to at least check in on a broad range of possibilities. The Jays enter play Tuesday in possession of the American League’s top Wild Card spot but eight games behind the Yankees in the AL East.