SAN DIEGO -- Hyun-jin Ryu broke out a new toy on Sunday night, using his improved curveball to great effectiveness his final five innings against the Padres.
Ryu has been working on his curveball all spring, but when Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt suggested a new grip last week the southpaw saw immediate results. But in the first two innings Ryu found himself in jams, with runners on second and third base in both innings, not the best time to debut his new pitch.
"Warming up in the pen he had a really good [curve]. Those first couple of innings weren't really situations to break out a new pitch, or his new grip," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "He showed flashes last season, and it seemed like his best games were when he had his curveball going."
Ryu escaped the first two innings unscathed, and threw 32 pitches, including no curveballs.
In the third inning Ryu threw four curveballs: two balls, a swinging strike, and a groundout by Chris Denorfia.
The fourth inning saw three Ryu curves: one ball and two fouls.
In the fifth inning, Ryu threw three curveballs, all called strikes.
In the sixth, Ryu threw three more curves: one ball, one called strike, and a swinging strikeout of Chase Headley (skip to the 1:11 mark of this video).
"The breaking ball he threw Chase Headley to punch him out was the best curve ball he's thrown in the last couple seasons," Ellis said.
Ryu threw no curves in the seventh inning, but from the third through the sixth 13 of Ryu's 50 pitches were curveballs. He retired all 12 batters in those four innings, part of a stretch of 15 straight batters retired into the seventh.
"When he started throwing it tonight in the game, I could immediately tell on my end this pitch was different than he's thrown in the past," Ellis recalled. "It was an elite pitch for us those four innings, when he really cruised."
Ryu said the weather conditions in San Diego helped him break in the new pitch.
"My curve ball and my slider, I was able to control them better today," Ryu said. "It made my other pitches better."
In 2013, batters hit .306 with a .486 slugging percentage against Ryu's curveball, per Brooks Baseball. He was at 1.91 runs created below average per 100 pitches, per FanGraphs. It was easily his worst pitch.
The normal Pitchf/x data isn't available for Ryu's start in Australia, but on Sunday night batters were 0-for-2 against his curve. His vertical movement was 8.95 inches, an increase from 7.17 inches in 2013, per Brooks Baseball.
A.J. Ellis noted the difference in Ryu's new curveball.
"It doesn't have that loop in it coming out of his hand. It stays on the plane of his other three pitches, which just adds deception," he explained. "A hitter can't really give up on it or sit on it."
So far, so good this season for Ryu.