TORONTO — Hyun Jin Ryu knows September is never a good time to slump.
With the Blue Jays in the thick of the American League wild-card race, Ryu struggled mightily for the second straight outing as he lasted only two-plus innings in a 7-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Friday.
The defeat dropped the Blue Jays (82-65) behind the Boston Red Sox (84-65) and New York Yankees (83-65) in the battle for the two wild-card positions. Toronto is a half-game behind the second-place Yankees.
Ryu was coming off one of his worst outings in a Toronto uniform, lasting only 2 1/3 innings in a 7-3 loss in Baltimore against the lowly Orioles last Saturday.
Against Minnesota, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo emerged from the dugout after a homer to right field from former Blue Jays standout Josh Donaldson provided the Twins with a 5-2 cushion in the third inning.
The two complete innings and four batters he faced in the third was the shortest outing for 34-year-old Ryu in his two seasons with the Blue Jays.
"As a starting pitcher, it's frustrating to have two early exits in a row," Ryu said through an interpreter.
"I'm giving up too many extra-base hits and leaving too many pitches over the plate."
Ryu (13-9) was asked about his health and whether he should skip a start. The Blue Jays have 15 games in 16 days remaining in the regular season.
The South Korean reported he felt fine, and there was no injury. He simply needed to get his command back. Montoyo agreed.
"When it comes to Ryu, it's all about his command," Montoyo said. "He'll be fine.
"I trust him."
When asked if there was a possibility Ryu could be rested and skip a start, Montoyo replied, "It's always an option for any pitcher."
Ryu's performance and the loss overshadowed another homer from 22-year-old Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
He smacked his 46th homer in the third inning to match Joe DiMaggio's 46 homers in 1937 at 22 and move to within one of Eddie Matthews's record for round-trippers in a single season by a player 22 or younger. Matthews slammed 47 in 1953 before his 22nd birthday.
Minnesota snatched a 1-0 lead in the second inning when designated hitter Brent Rooker doubled home Miguel Sano, who earned a lead-off walk.
The Blue Jays went ahead in the bottom half of the second. Corey Dickerson doubled and scored on a throwing error from Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco on Danny Jansen's grounder. Toronto third baseman Jake Lamb doubled in Jansen.
In the third, a Byron Buxton double scored Ryan Jeffers to tie the game. Polanco and Donaldson followed with homers. Ross Stripling then replaced Ryu, and the Blue Jays reliever was greeted with a Sano homer to straightaway centre field.
Donaldson, who also doubled to left in the fifth inning, made his second trip back to Toronto since he was traded away from the Blue Jays to Cleveland on Aug. 31, 2018.
"I can't lie, it's nice to get back here and play in front of these fans and in this stadium where I have so many good memories," he said.
Donaldson's first game at Rogers Centre in a new uniform was as a member of the Atlanta Braves two years ago. Like that occasion in August 2019, the crowd of 14,798 gave the 35-year-old a standing ovation on Friday.
The 2015 AL MVP stepped out of the batter box and removed his helmet to acknowledge the acclaim.
In the sixth, right-hander Julian Merryweather, acquired in the Donaldson trade, took over the Blue Jays mound. He surrendered a lead-off homer to Rooker.
Michael Pineda (7-8) recorded his third win in a row, going 5 2/3 innings, giving up only three hits and one earned run.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 17, 2021.
Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press