If this blog space were available during last night’s game, Hyun-Jin Ryu would have been the star.
Ryu will finish the season 14-7 with a 2.97 earned-run average, but he won’t win the National League Rookie of the Year award. Jose Fernandez has been a better pitcher and Yasiel Puig has made a bigger impact on his team than either Ryu or Fernandez.
But at some point last night I recalled filling out a brief survey back in spring training. A Korean reporter went around the press box at Camelback Ranch and asked each of the Dodgers beat writers to predict what Ryu’s won-loss record and earned-run average would be. I think I put down something quite average, say 11-11 and 3.70, simply because I couldn’t commit to the idea of Ryu being excellent or awful based on what little I knew at the time. Obviously, he’s been very good.
One recent exception had been Ryu’s ability to perform on long rest. Pitching on 11 days’ rest on Sept. 11 against the Diamondbacks, he was fairly awful, throwing 88 pitches and getting only three swings-and-misses. Ryu wound up allowing 10 hits and three runs in six innings (some double plays helped) but was the losing pitcher in a 13-6 drubbing.
Prior to that, Ryu last pitched on extra rest July 22 in Toronto. He labored through 5 ⅓ innings, throwing 102 pitches and again fooling few (seven swings-and-misses).
Why is this important?
If he doesn’t pitch the final game of the regular season Sept. 29, the next time Ryu starts will probably be Game 3 or 4 of the postseason, depending on how the Dodgers line up their rotation (and depending on if there is a Game 4; if the Dodgers are swept in the first round, we might not see Ryu until 2014). Even if he does pitch in turn Sept. 29, he’ll have six or seven days before his first playoff start.
If he doesn’t pitch Sept. 29 — and the Dodgers aren’t swept — Ryu might have as many as 12 games’ rest before his next start. That Ryu could take 11 days off and limit the Giants to one run over seven innings on Tuesday wasn’t just necessary to win the game, it was necessary to show he can survive a long layoff. That has to inspire a fair amount of confidence among Ryu’s teammates, manager and front office.
Remember too, this isn’t any pitcher we’re talking about — Ryu had never thrown a between-starts bullpen session before coming to America from South Korea late last year. He still hasn’t thrown off a mound between starts, except when tuning up following an injury. I believe that’s happened twice all season.
That said, don’t be surprised if Ryu pitches a simulated game or an extended bullpen session five days from now just to stay sharp. Don’t be surprised if he survives his first test in the playoffs, either.