After stellar postseason start, Dodgers’ Ryu Hyun-jin says rehab was worth it

October 5, 2018

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) — Los Angeles Dodgers’ South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin has come a long way to reach where he was standing Thursday, in the afterglow of the best postseason start of his career.

Ryu twirled seven shutout innings of four-hit ball against the Atlanta Braves and helped the Dodgers to a 6-0 win to open the National League Division Series (NLDS) at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.

This is a pitcher who was once given up for dead after appearing in just one regular season game between 2015 and 2016, following shoulder and elbow operations. Few pitchers have successfully come back from shoulder surgery. And in 2017, Ryu wasn’t even good enough to make the Dodgers’ postseason rosters when they reached the World Series.

After Thursday’s game, the 31-year-old said his grueling rehab was all worth it.

Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers speaks at a press conference following a 6-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Oct. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers speaks at a press conference following a 6-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Oct. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

“Back then (in 2015), I decided to have shoulder surgery, obviously so that I could be back on the mound again,” Ryu said. “I went through a tough rehab and I’ve stayed determined to return to the mound. And I think it led to a game like today’s.”

It was Ryu’s first postseason start since October 2014 and his first playoff win since October 2013.

In a surprise move, Ryu earned the Game 1 nod over three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Ryu went 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA during the regular season, while missing three months of action with a groin injury. But he showed enough down the stretch — 3-0 with one earned run in 19 innings over his final three starts — to earn the trust of manager Dave Roberts. And Ryu made Roberts look pretty good with his start.

Ryu gave up just four singles and struck out eight against a club that had the NL’s second-best on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) against left-handers this year at .780. He used every pitch in his repertoire, be it four-seam fastballs or beguiling curves and changeups.

The Dodgers backed him up with three home runs. Joc Pederson led off the game with a solo shot, and Max Muncy provided more cushion with a three-run blast in the second inning.

In this Reuters photo from USA Today Sports, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers pumps his fist after striking out Ozzie Albies to end the top of the seventh inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Oct. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

In this Reuters photo from USA Today Sports, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers pumps his fist after striking out Ozzie Albies to end the top of the seventh inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Oct. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

“I think (Muncy’s home run) was the biggest reason why I was able to pitch seven innings today,” he said. “Those three runs probably played the biggest role in this game.”

Ryu threw a season-high 104 pitches in this one. During the regular season, he’d topped out at 93 pitches on two occasions, and kept his pitch count to under 90 in each of his final two September starts.

The left-hander reported no issues after the long day on the hill.

“I told myself I’d go hard from the get-go, and I am happy I was able to execute that plan,” he said. “I think a starting pitcher is supposed to throw more than 100 pitches every time. This isn’t a problem for me.”

Ryu joined exclusive company in the Dodgers’ franchise history by tossing his second postseason start with at least seven shutout innings. Sandy Koufax, Jerry Reuss and Orel Hershiser are the only others to have done so multiple times for the Dodgers.

“It’s obviously a great honor to be mentioned alongside these legends,” Ryu said. “Everyone is trying to be like them. It makes me feel good.”

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