Based on the laughter from 20 members of the Korean-language media, and the often light-hearted quotes he gave through an interpreter, Hyun-Jin Ryu seemed comfortable on the first day of spring training. To wit: The Korean left-hander, who came to the United States for the first last November before signing with the Dodgers in December, is already craving an In-N-Out burger.
“As soon as camp is over I’ll go back,” he said.
For now, Ryu is sticking to a diet that he said has helped him lose eight pounds.
With five spots available for eight starting pitchers in camp, every competitive advantage counts. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett appear to be locks for the rotation. So it’s Ryu, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang vying for two spots. Asked if he would be willing to pitch out of the bullpen, he smiled and said, “I don’t plan on that.”
Still, Ryu has something to prove as a pitcher for the first time in a long time. He was an all-star seven times in the KBO, South Korea’s top league. Now he’s a rookie, trying to be humble he said, by walking straight to his locker and keeping quiet.
Except when laughter fills the dressing room.
“If your interpretation is funny,” he said, looking at interpreter Martin Kim, “I will laugh along.”
Some other tidbits from Ryu’s first press conference:
• He’s spoken with catcher A.J. Ellis already. “He said, ‘at the end of the day, whatever you’re good at we’ll make sure you pitch that way.’”
• On the differences between spring training here and in the KBO: “The biggest difference is that in Korea we start camp much earlier. At this point we would be throwing full bullpen sessions. Here it’s more technical, that they calculate pitch counts.”
• Luis Cruz is already his favorite teammate. “He was really easy to get to know. He downloaded a Korean translating app on his phone and he’s been texting me in Korean.”
• Ryu said he hasn’t held a bat in seven years.
• On whether he’ll try to communicate with teammates in English: “If you consider one-word answers communication, yes.”
• He and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo are close. “Whenever I have a question I ask Choo … he’s a very close mentor of mine. He’s always given me good advice.”
• In Korea, starting pitchers throw every sixth day, usually once a week. “I think initially there will be a physical adjustment but after one or two months I’ll be OK.”