PHOENIX — Hyun-jin Ryu didn’t have the sharpest outing in the Dodgers’ 5-2 loss to the White Sox on Saturday at Camelback Ranch, but he’s well ahead of last year’s pace and is someone the Dodgers are counting on for a rebound year in 2018.
Ryu allowed five runs on seven hits in three innings of work against Chicago, an outing in which he wasn’t helped much by his defense nor, in the Dodgers’ opinion, by home plate umpire John Libka. Manager Dave Roberts even visited the mound in the second inning just to calm Ryu down.
“I thought Ryu was considerably better than the line. The pitch count went up because of that,” Roberts said. “He got squeezed a little bit. I thought he threw the ball well.”
Ryu said he was also still working on his curveball, trying to improve his spin rate like he has all spring, something he wouldn’t have done if this were a regular season game.
Most importantly, Ryu is further removed from labrum surgery that wiped out his 2015 season and the bulk of his 2016 season, and throwing more free and easy now, compared to last year when he was more tentative, especially in March.
“Because it was my first full year back I didn’t know what to expect or how my body would react to certain types of situations,” Ryu said. “During spring training I had some sort of doubt.”
Roberts said Ryu sat 89-92 mph on Saturday and hit 93 in his last start, well above where he was at last spring training.
“For me just watching, last year the arm strength wasn’t there. There was a little bit of self preservation in his extension where this year he’s letting it go more in his second year removed from surgery,” Roberts said. “The fastball velocity with that is ticking up and his change is better because of the extension.
“He’s really excited to have a regular offseason and not just rehab. Everything is kind of profiling where Hyun-jin used to be.”
Hyun-jin Ryu’s fastball velocity
Ryu maxed out at 95.40 mph in his first major league season in 2013, then hit 95.43 mph in 2014, per Brooks Baseball. After shoulder and elbow surgeries limited him to just one major league start in the next two years combined he was a tick slower in 2017, reaching 94.61 mph.
His averages were similar, over 91 mph in each of his first two years then down to 90.74 mph last season.
“It’s not something I really think about but I probably have more arm strength now,” Ryu said.
The plan is for Ryu, who pitched a simulated fourth inning in the bullpen after his outing on Saturday, to pitch five innings in his next time out, likely on Friday.
Ryu averaged 5.11 innings in his 25 starts in 2017, down from 6.14 in his first two seasons, and lasted six innings or longer eight times.
“Last year we were definitely conscious of an innings limit, a pitch count-type thing to manage him,” Roberts said. “We’re going to manage him again but I think it will be more on an individual game basis on how I feel he’s throwing the baseball. The health component now that that’s checked, it’s more how the stuff is playing in the game.”