In second camp, Dodgers and Ryu more comfortable
Left-hander looks solid in latest outing as first regular season start nears
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers use the word "comfortable" so much to describe pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu this Spring Training compared to last, you'd think he's throwing from a Barcalounger.
The fact is, it's the Dodgers who are more comfortable this Spring with Ryu.
Last Spring, they had a rocky honeymoon. Ryu reported out of shape, unaware that Major Leaguers are expected to be ready from Day One of camp and not work themselves into fitness.
He believed the six-year, $36 million contract he signed to leave Korea assured him a spot in the starting rotation. Management, though, got a little worried as he struggled in exhibition games and began talking about "competing" for a job.
It didn't help that, even while he struggled, Ryu refused to throw between-start bullpen sessions, as suggested by the coaches. Those sessions are not only customary in the Major Leagues, they are customary in Korea, but Ryu didn't make them back home and he wasn't going to change his successful ways over here.
"If I throw a bullpen and lose command, that would be my fault," said Ryu, 26. "By skipping bullpens, I'm able to command my pitches."
That didn't make sense to the American school of thought on pitching.
"A lot of it was us," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "We had never seen him. We had serious questions. We figured he wanted to play here, on a higher level, and he sees how Clayton [Kershaw] and Zack [Greinke] prepare from a level of fitness, and he comes here and he's not as fit as he should be and he won't do our throwing program.
"Now we've seen after a year that it works for him. Obviously, we're more accepting of it because he's been with us a year and done it on this level. He definitely had a nonchalance to his approach and it had to be conveyed to him that we expected more."
There was frustration all around, but Ryu held his ground, maintained his unconventional throwing program, was ready when the bell rang and went on to a 14-8 season with a 3.00 ERA, the second-most wins for a Los Angeles rookie. The statistics were remarkably similar to his typical season in Korea (14-8, 2.80).
This spring, nobody is complaining that Ryu doesn't throw bullpen sessions between starts. Funny how that works.
"I think, compared to last year, the coaches and manager now trust me a lot more," Ryu said after allowing one run over five innings Monday against Oakland, lowering his Spring ERA to 2.45 after three starts.
"This year, I know what to expect, and they know what to expect from me. I'm definitely more comfortable this year and I think they are too. Last spring, I did it my way. I don't throw extra because my body gets very sore after pitching and needs the time to recover. I think I've shown and proved that it works for me."
Honeycutt can't argue with that after watching Ryu make 30 starts and pitch 192 innings in the Major Leagues. He threw a pair of two-hit complete games and won six consecutive decisions during the team's dramatic midseason turnaround.
Although the Korean League uses a designated hitter, Ryu proved a respectable right-handed bat with a .207 average, eighth in the league for pitchers. Despite his portly body-type, he fielded his position without committing an error, demonstrating his athleticism Monday by hustling to rob the speedy Billy Burns of a bunt single in the fifth inning.
Ryu began workouts in Los Angeles in January and reported to Arizona in much better shape this Spring. His pitch count reached 69 Monday and after an extra day of rest, will make his final Cactus League start on Saturday, when he hopes to stretch out to 85 pitches.
After that, he will take the mound for the Dodgers in the second game of the regular season against the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Grounds, pitching on a more familiar side of the Pacific Ocean.
"I'll do my best to be prepared and ready to perform to the highest expectations," Ryu said.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.