PHOENIX — Hyun-jin Ryu pitched two scoreless innings in his first Cactus League game this season on Saturday afternoon against the Angels at Camelback Ranch, fueling a sense of optimism after essentially two lost major league seasons.
The Dodgers have taken things slowly with Ryu, who missed all of 2015 and half of 2016 after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, the ended last year with arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow after just one start.
"It's been a while since I've pitched in front of this big of a crowd," Ryu said.
Appearing in a Cactus League game isn’t the end goal for Ryu, but today was a necessary step in the journey.
“It's going to be fun to just go watch him compete,” manager Dave Roberts said on Saturday morning.
Ryu retired the side in order in the first inning, including strikeouts of Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa. He allowed a single in the second inning to C.J. Cron, but escaped unscathed. Ryu threw 26 pitches in all, then finished up in with a simulated frame in the bullpen.
Welcome back, Hyun-Jin Ryu! #화이팅! pic.twitter.com/sQDcuTI1jZ— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 11, 2017
Ryu said this outing compared favorably with his spring performances in 2013 and 2014, his first two years with the Dodgers.
He was sitting in the high 80s and reached low 90s on Saturday — Roberts said he was between 87-91 mph — which is normal for Ryu, especially in spring.
“He's got such good arm speed, and repeating that delivery. He got some swing and miss on the elevated fastball,” Roberts said. “Today was a really good day for Ryu.”
Scout had Hyun-Jin Ryu's FB sitting 88-91 during two scoreless IP. Encouraging sign, though his ability to hold velocity remains unknown.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) March 11, 2017
Scout had #Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu's fastball at 86-88 mph, touching 91.— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) March 11, 2017
Ryu wasn’t worried much about the radar gun.
"It's not really my point of emphasis,” Ryu said. “I'm more concerned about my command and other things."
The command was certainly there for Ryu on Saturday, who stayed around the plate and was able to throw his curve and fastball for strikes. The confidence is there, too.
"There is a certain look or demeanor when a player feels healthy, as opposed to when they don't feel quite right,” Roberts said earlier in the week. “Last year there was an eagerness and a will to compete, but he just didn't feel physically that he could do it, in my opinion.
“This year, the whole demeanor is different, and the confidence because he's more healthy. The swings and misses he's getting and what his ball is doing in the strike zone, a lot of good things are going on.”
Ryu earlier in camp expressed a desire to be ready by opening day, though on Saturday he sounded a little more pragmatic in his goal.
"The most important thing is that I'm healthy,” Ryu said. “Just like my first time here [in 2013], I'm competing for a spot. If I just focus on each game at a time, a good result will follow.”
Roberts didn’t rule out Ryu still having time to make the opening day roster, though it still seems unlikely, even with potentially four more spring starts to increase his pitch count.
"With him, we're being very deliberate. With the depth we have with our starting pitching there's really no rush,” Roberts said. “We're just making sure he feels good and continues to improve.
“For Ryu, we just want him to take this start and take it day to day and just continue to build up. Once we break camp we'll see where we're at and how it all plays out.”