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Hyun-jin Ryu continues to build momentum and confidence with each start

MLB: Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The process of returning from an injury for an athlete is a slow and exhausting road that often times leads to the player not returning back to the full potential they once possessed.

Hyun-jin Ryu underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder before the 2015 season and then had surgery again for a debridement — essentially a cleanup — on his pitching elbow after the 2016 season.

Two procedures on his arm in a 15-month stretch can be a scary thing for a pitcher. The Dodgers have been patient with Ryu over the last three plus seasons as he regains his confidence and it’s paying off in a big way.

The big lefty has allowed five runs in four starts this season and three of those came in a shaky first outing in Arizona.

“In my first game, I had a lot of hard time commanding my pitches and made mistakes here and there which led to a bad result,” said Ryu through his interpreter. “Since then, things have gotten better in terms of my command and because of that I think I’m having a good run.”

The momentum Ryu has built can be seen going back to last season when his spot in the rotation wasn’t a guarantee. Since June 17 of last season, the left-hander has posted a 2.92 ERA in 18 starts, giving up two or less runs in 14 of those outings.

In his last three starts, Ryu has given up only two runs and six hits over 19 innings while striking out 25 with four walks.

Going toe-to-toe with the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg Saturday night was a big moment for the Dodgers that have scuffled a bit to start this year. Going seven scoreless on just 89 pitches helps put the injury talk in the rear view mirror.

“Ryu has thrown the ball well consistently all season,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Just the way he’s mixing his pitches, changing eye levels, in and out with the fastball, the cutter, the change – he’s really synced up and he’s got a lot of confidence.”

How confident is Ryu this year with his ability to get hitters out? Confident enough to challenge one of baseball’s best hitters after being down 3-0 in the count.

It was the third inning with two out and a man aboard for Washington and Bryce Harper at the plate. A 3-0 count is an easy call to go ahead and walk Harper who already has eight homers in 2018. But that wouldn’t be the case for Ryu as he challenged Harper with two straight strikes.

Sure, Harper would eventually walk after seeing nine pitches. The point is that Ryu wasn’t content with pitching around the slugger, showing how confident he is in himself.

“I try not to give up free walks to the hitters,” said Ryu. “There was two outs and I felt like I could go after him. Eventually it did lead to me walking him but for me it was important to still put something in there. Strategically, you can always walk batters but in that case I wanted to give him something to go for.”

After loading the bases in that third inning, Ryu would get out of the inning on a grounder to short. That would be the last threat for Washington as the Dodgers’ left-hander would retire the last 13 batters he faced.

The Dodgers are the only team in baseball with four shutouts in 2018 and Ryu has started two of them. It’s also worth pointing out that Ryu has accounted for three of the Dodgers’ nine wins.