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For now, Ryu remains under the radar

LOS ANGELES -- It isn't always easy, even for the supremely talented, to showcase their talents while surrounded by exceptional genius or charisma. Whether in music (George Harrison playing third banana to John Lennon and Paul McCartney), movies (Mark Wahlberg anchoring "The Fighter" as Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams all received Oscar nods in flashier roles) or sports (Chris Bosh's four seasons alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade), certain situations are destined to leave a gifted many lost in the shuffle.

Such is the case with Hyun-Jin Ryu in the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting rotation.

The left-hander, whose two-hit, 10-strikeout performance fueled Sunday's 1-0 win over the San Diego Padres, enters the All-Star break with a 10-5 record. Only four pitchers in the National League have accumulated more W's. Unfortunately for Ryu's Q Rating, two of them, Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke, happen to be his teammates, which only makes profile elevation that much harder. Even Josh Beckett, by virtue of surprising folks by actually being useful, has arguably managed to overshadow Ryu this season. For the time being, status as a luxury third starter of almost comical proportions will have to do.

"He's our third starter," said catcher A.J. Ellis, "and he'd probably be a lot of team's first starter. That's how good and talented Hyun-Jin is. Days like today, when he's got all four pitches, he can pile up a lot of quick outs. A lot of strikeouts, too. And he pitches to win. He pitches with a lot of pride."

Said manager Don Mattingly: "I think he definitely gets overlooked. When you have Kersh, it's easy to overlook Zach a little bit sometimes. I think he does get overlooked, but I think people that kind of know, within baseball, [say] get him on the free market and see what happens. They'll go crazy over him. I think it's more of a public thing. I think part of that is he can't really go out and do a bunch of interviews and do stuff because of the language and everything else. I think people within the game and the industry know how good he is. And if he ever got out on the open market, you'd find out how much his value is."

For his part, Ryu has no beef with waiting longer before getting fawned over.

"Absolutely not," Ryu said through am interpreter when asked if he ever feels overlooked. "I mean, those guys are outstanding pitchers. I do the best I can every time, but I'm still not at their level and I acknowledge that."

Pressed about what it would take to reach the level of Kershaw or Greinke, Ryu took a thoughtful pause, then delved into honest self-criticism.

"I'm not sure exactly what to pinpoint something," Ryu said. "But if there is one thing at the top of my mind, it's probably the consistency and the velocity, game in and game out. Those guys, their average is very consistent, whereas mine has more range in different games. I think that might be one thing."

Whatever kinks still remain in Ryu's game, Ellis doesn't consider ironing them out a monumental task.

"I think he's definitely on that arc where he's gonna be that kind of pitcher, a perennial All-Star-type guy every year," Ellis said. "I think he's still getting more and more comfortable in the states and here playing the game. He's definitely moving in that direction."

Teammates and Mattingly alike praise Ryu for his ability to bounce back from the rare bad outing. Last season, he followed up a rough playoff debut against the Atlanta Braves with seven innings of three-hit shutout ball against the St. Louis Cardinals in the next round, outdueling ace Adam Wainwright in the process. And Sunday's gem came on the heels of an absolute shellacking in Detroit. Mattingly, however, had no doubt this outcome was in the works.

"I always feel like he's gonna bounce back," Mattingly said. "He's competitive and he takes it personally. When he gets hit a little bit, like in Detroit, he came out of that game, went back to work, and in today's outing, he bounces right back. And that's what a competitor can do."

As for the language barrier cited by Mattingly, that may prevent Ryu from raising his profile to American audiences but hasn't appeared to interfere one ounce with his clubhouse assimilation. He and Yasiel Puig are likely baseball's co-leaders in testosterone-laced dugout wrestling caught on camera during broadcasts. Before a June 29 win over St. Louis, Ryu couldn't resist administering several playful (but hard) slaps to Juan Uribe's back. He may still be learning American culture, but he's definitely one of the guys in the clubhouse.

And for the time being, "one of the guys" will have to do. There's a certain poetry to the Dodgers' entering the All-Star break on a win secured by Ryu, but the pitcher himself is going on break. His share of the spotlight will simply have to wait.