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Hyun-jin Ryu working on spin rate, sees first game action of spring

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Workout Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — It took a little time but Hyun-jin Ryu finally saw his first game action of spring training on Monday, pitching in a B game against the White Sox on the back fields of Camelback Ranch. In doing so he gave opposing hitters a first look at what he hopes will be a new weapon for him this season.

Or at least he tried to.

“It felt good out there over all. I was working on my offspeed pitches,” Ryu said Monday. “I had a hard time commanding my curveball today but except for that I felt fine.”

Ryu was scratched from his scheduled start last Wednesday but was one of several Dodgers to fall victim to the virus that ran through the clubhouse. He was sick for two days though was able to return for workouts on the second day.

Last week manager Dave Roberts called Ryu’s missed start a minor setback, and not one that majorly affected his progression toward being ready to start in the first week of the regular season.

“With the three ups and downs, I feel like I’m back on track,” Ryu said.

Ryu allowed a run on three hits in 2⅔ innings on Monday, his final inning cut short when reaching his pitch count after allowing an RBI triple to Yolmer Sanchez. The lax nature of games on the back fields, much like when major leaguers are getting extra work in on the minor league side, allows for a more controlled environment so after Sanchez tripled the inning simply ended by decree with no fuss from either side.

The entire purpose of spring training is to get ready for the season and the exhibition nature of these games allows for some more experimenting. In the lab for Ryu this season is a harder curveball, one he had trouble commanding on Monday but that’s just part of the process.

“I always knew in theory that if you put more spin on it it would be tougher on the hitters, but never really had a chance to try it out during the season,” Ryu said. “But since this is spring training you get to try new stuff.”

Ryu has a slow curve, averaging 72.2 mph in 2017 per Brooks Baseball, and he threw it 15.7% of the time. It was an effective pitch, with batters hitting just .158 against Ryu’s curve last year, with a .316 slugging percentage. It’s not the velocity Ryu is necessarily concerned with.

“I’m just thinking of the spin rate, but not sure exactly how much harder I’m throwing it,” Ryu said.

Of the 243 major league pitchers who threw at least 50 curveballs in 2017, Ryu’s spin rate on that pitch was right in the middle, averaging 2,422 RPM to rank 143rd.

“He’s got a tremendous feel for his offspeed pitches, the cutter, the changeup, even his fastball. The way it comes out of his hand is very effortless,” said Rich Hill, whose 2,799 RPM on his curve ranked 27th in MLB. “He is one of the guys I look at who can change the shape of his breaking ball and continue to keep working on his spin.”