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NLDS Game 3 preview: Hyun-jin Ryu makes his return

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers turn to Hyun-jin Ryu in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Cardinals, placing their faith in someone who hasn't pitched in a major league game in 24 days.

Ryu struck out nine in 6⅔ innings against Arizona on Sept. 6, but that was the last time Ryu has lasted more than one inning in a start. One month ago today.

The left-hander dealt with shoulder inflammation, an injury that also caused him to go 23 days between starts in April and May, and one that knocked him off the mound after one inning in San Francisco on Sept. 12.

"If it wasn't Hyun‑jin, I would probably be a lot more nervous," manager Don Mattingly said. "But he seems to be able to not throw a whole lot and be pretty sharp."

Ryu has been on the disabled list two times this season, not counting his current injury, and in none of the previous stints did he need a minor league rehab start. Ryu was able to return with some combination of a simulated game and/or elongated bullpen session.

He won both return starts after the layoffs, striking out nine while allowing two runs in six innings against the Mets on May 21, and allowing one run in seven innings with seven strikeouts against the Padres on Aug. 31.

Ryu will apparently be the fifth pitcher since 1950 to start in the postseason after not appearing in any of his team's final 15 games, per Zachary Levine and Mike Gianella at Baseball Prospectus. The previous four - Catfish Hunter, Kerry Wood, Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel - combined for a 5.21 ERA in 19 innings and four losses.

"You take it on faith, you take it to the heart," said noted scholar Thomas Petty. "The waiting is the hardest part."

When healthy, Ryu had a very good year. He was 14-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 26 starts, with 139 strikeouts and 29 walks in 152 innings.

Among the 102 major league pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched in 2014, Ryu ranked seventh in FIP (2.62), 12th in xFIP (3.03), 20th in SIERA (3.17) and 19th in K-BB% (17.4%).

The Dodgers will face John Lackey, acquired from Boston at the trade deadline by the Cardinals. He was 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts for St. Louis, with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks in 60⅔ innings. The 35-year-old is also 6-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 19 career postseason games, including 16 starts, and has started and won two World Series clinching games, Game 7 in 2002 with the Angels and Game 6 in 2013 with the Red Sox.

"The pressure isn't anything new for John Lackey, which is part of the reason why we're excited to watch him pitch Game 3. This is a stage he's been on, and we've watched him excel on this stage. This is why he wanted to be over here, too," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "He was excited about being a part of this club, realizing there was an opportunity to pitch in October.  And once a veteran player gets a taste of this, they realize this is what it's about."

Lackey is 5-3 with a 1.93 ERA in 11 games against the Dodgers, including 10 starts. But he has only faced them once after 2009, allowing two runs in eight innings in a loss at Dodger Stadium in 2013.

Ryu has faced the Cardinals three times in his career, including the postseason, and has lasted exactly seven innings in all three starts, 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA, 18 strikeouts and two walks. He allowed one unearned run with seven strikeouts and no walks in a 2013 start in St. Louis, his only career start at Busch Stadium.

He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and a walk in Game 3 of the 213 NLCS against Adam Wainwright, a must-win for the Dodgers, down 0-2 in the series.

"I think the reason for Hyun‑jin is just his track record of kind of his work in between.  That tells us so much about him.  And then really, what's happened this year, what we've already been through this year," Mattingly said. "Hyun‑Jin is a guy that we trust.  And he's been unflappable from the standpoint of anything that comes along he just seems to handle."

Game info

Time: 6:07 p.m. PT

TV: Fox Sports 1