Hyun-Jin Ryu is huge.
As in heavier than David Wells. As in 75 pounds more than Marcus Stroman. Huge, as in the largest signing and most significant gamble made by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, the previous baseball twins of do-nothing and say-nothing, who suddenly have something to say and sell and something to be proud about.
Ryu is a giant from South Korea who doesn’t just pitch. He conducts the orchestra. He controls the environment. He throws what some baseball people call the best changeup in the game.
He doesn’t walk people. He doesn’t give anything away. He’s the ace the Blue Jays haven’t had since that moment in time when Aaron Sanchez led the American League in earned-run average. Ryu led the National League in the same category this past season, which at the age of 32 was his healthiest, strongest, and most complete big-league season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. wanted him back, but he opted not to return after the Blue Jays dangled $80-million U.S. at him.
There were other teams chasing Ryu. The Los Angeles Angels had interest, as did the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.
And this is where Shapiro and Atkins need to be congratulated: They beat somebody to the finish line. Finally. They weren’t just chasers of Ryu. They won the gold medal in this race.
Being in the race is meaningless off-season talk, especially around here. We’ve heard too much of it over the years. Who cares who is chasing whom? Winning the race — getting your man — that’s all that matters, an indication to Blue Jays fans that they are at least serious about becoming competitive.
Before this signing, with all the garage-sale junk the Jays have accumulated in recent years, it was hard to take Shapiro and Atkins all that seriously. It was hard to believe they weren’t doing anything but paddling in circles.
The Ryu signing may not be a ticket to the post-season, but it is an indication of the credibility of management. This signing paints the Blue Jays as players. This signing brings a certain respect we haven’t seen since 2015. Not unlike the Russell Martin signing in Toronto, this is an overpay, a Lou Lamoriello signing — to use his terminology, too much money, too much term. But to get free agents to come to Toronto, at this time in Blue Jays history, to get them as the Jays languish near the bottom of the American League, they have to overpay and oversell.
And they have done that here.
Ryu, by the way, is not a sure thing. No free agent ever is. But here’s what we’ve been able to find out about him. He’s considered both a good guy and good pitcher, and he was very popular with Dodgers players and management.
What some wonder about now is the adjustment he will have to make from pitching at Dodger Stadium to pitching at Rogers Centre.
It’s not just National League to American League. The free outs are gone with the switch of leagues. The earned-run average always goes up with that kind of move.
It’s throwing in a pitcher-friendly stadium to throwing at the home-run haven we have in downtown Toronto that will represent a challenge for Ryu.
At home, last season, Ryu was 10-1 with an earned-run average of 1.93. On the road, his ERA rose to 2.72.
He started 29 games: The Dodgers won 20 of them and he ended the season with 182 innings pitched, the most he had thrown since he was a rookie. And the question with Ryu has always been about health. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, he made just 40 starts. In three of his six big-league seasons, he pitched from beginning to end. In between, he couldn’t be relied upon.
One of the two National League scouting eyes I talked to about Ryu said he can really pitch, he really challenges hitters and, in his words, he called him “legit.” But then he listed three words as his cons: Durability, durability and durability.
Was 2019 an indication that he’s gotten past his arm and shoulder troubles.
“How healthy is he doing to be? How many innings is he going to log?” He meant this season and the years that follow.
We don’t care how much it cost to sign him. It’s not our money. We care that Rogers and Atkins and Shapiro are finally using the necessary money to enhance the Blue Jays’ roster and reputation, both of which are in need of some repair.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is not the saviour of anything that doesn’t happen every fifth day during the upcoming season. But he’s a message that Toronto can be a destination. He’s the front end of an improving starting staff on an improving team.
Finally, the Blue Jays stopped chasing, stopped stalling, started spending and came home with a giant-sized, left-handed gift for the holidays.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)