LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers no longer need to worry about left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu opting out of his contract after next season. But they might need to start wondering if he’ll ever pitch for them again.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed before Saturday’s game against the visiting San Francisco Giants that Ryu had another physical setback, this time a groin strain that forced him to cancel his bullpen session. Ryu hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since Oct. 6, 2014, a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. He dealt with on-and-off soreness in his throwing shoulder his first two seasons with the Dodgers, and the issue became especially problematic when he reported to spring training in 2015. He eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum on May 21.
Ryu began his throwing program Oct. 6, a year to the day after his last start for the Dodgers, but was still treated cautiously when spring training opened in late February. He was eventually shut down for a week due to soreness in the shoulder, then restarted his conditioning, still well behind the other pitchers.
He threw a 20-pitch simulated game last weekend and reportedly felt great, but then the news of his latest setback came to light Saturday.
“We’re going to take a couple days to kind of let this calm down and then get him back on the mound,” Roberts said. “I think the whole time we thought we were going to have him back sooner, but then there’s a setback in the middle of spring and then with this. Technically it’s a setback, and I don’t know how severe the injury is."
The Dodgers' pitching staff has been bolstered by strong starts from rookies Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling, who have combined to allow three earned runs and 15 hits in 25⅓ innings, but with Zack Greinke, last season's MLB ERA champion, now pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, sizable holes remain in the rotation that Ryu could certainly fill.
"We need him back, but we need him back healthy,” Roberts said.
Ryu, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract prior to the 2013 season, was solid his first two seasons with the Dodgers. He posted a 14-8 mark and 3.00 ERA in 192 innings his first year and came back with a 14-7 record and 3.38 ERA in 152 innings in 2014, both years working as the No. 3 starter behind Clayton Kershaw and Greinke, who have combined for four Cy Young Awards. He was well on pace to reach 750 innings in the first five years of his contract and earn an opt-out clause after next season, when he’ll be 30 years old and still in the prime of his career.
Now the Dodgers must continue down a path that has become all too familiar with Ryu, a road that seems to get longer and more circuitous by the day.