On the current Dodgers roster, one of the biggest questions heading into 2016 is just what to expect from Hyun-jin Ryu, who missed all of 2015 and is recovering from shoulder surgery. My stock answer for people asking when Ryu might rejoin the Dodgers rotation has been May, and I see no reason to change that now.
By all accounts, Ryu has attacked the rehabilitation process since his arthroscopic surgery on May 21 to repair a torn labrum he reportedly pitched through for two years. I suppose a large part of my stock answer of a May 2016 return is to temper expectations; after all, it's much better to mentally plan for Ryu in May, then have him ready in April, than it is to count on the left-hander for April only to be disappointed if he isn't ready by opening day.
Ryu left South Korea to resume his training and rehab on Monday, more than six weeks ahead of the reporting date for Dodgers pitchers and catchers at Camelback Ranch.
While the headline of this Yonhap News piece on Ryu's return to the United States is the rather optimistic "Dodgers' Ryu Hyun-jin eyes return to rotation at start of season," it is important to read what Ryu actually said, which was much more pragmatic.
"If I throw in the bullpen and continue to work hard, I may be able to pitch in preseason," Ryu told Yoo Jee-ho of Yonhap. "But I will try not to rush things too much. My biggest goal this year is to join the rotation at the beginning of the season and stay there until the end of the season. I haven't set any statistical goals for myself."
One of the things I sometimes abhor about is the dissemination of baseball information is the misinterpretation of parsed quotes, with the erosion of context devolving into a childhood game of telephone. But in this case, along with the accompanying article, there is plenty of supporting evidence to see what Ryu was really saying, though in some ways that passage above is a Rohrshach test.
How I read Ryu's quote is that "the beginning of the season" doesn't necessarily mean opening day, though admittedly this is something that might have been lost in translation. If he makes it back by then, great, that would be a culmination of months of hard work; Ryu said, "I've never worked harder to prepare for a season than this time."
What stood out to me more from Ryu were "I may be able to pitch in preseason," and "I will try not to rush things too much."
What this falls under is the usual plan for returning from injury. The club would much rather Ryu return when he is ready than some time sooner, and that his return would be to stay for the long haul.
Given that pitching coach Rick Honeycutt usually sets up an individual plan for each pitcher, one that gradually adds innings and pitches as spring progresses, Ryu is not going to be ready to join the major league rotation until he has already pitched — in spring training games, the minor league side, or even extended spring training in April — until he builds up arm strength first.
The Dodgers have plenty of major league depth. With the signings of Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda added to Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood and the gaggle of options at the Triple-A level, the Dodgers have a starting rotation they can easily count on to start the season.
A healthy Ryu only adds to the Dodgers' pitching strength, and he is certainly someone who would only enhance their postseason aspirations. But given the depth in-house, the club can afford to wait until he's fully ready, even if it's not the opening series in April.