LOS ANGELES – First, there was the picture that circulated on the Internet of Hyun-Jin Ryu at In-N-Out Burger with a platter of three hamburgers in front of him and one in his hand. Then, he got to Arizona and couldn’t keep up with the other Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers in their first conditioning runs.
Once he’d been there awhile, he approached pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and said he preferred not to throw between starts. Typically, major-league starters throw a fairly strenuous bullpen session two days after they pitch.
The Dodgers’ $62 million investment must have had some people wondering if he was going to work for the money when he first showed up.
“He came in with his way of doing things and wanted things a certain way,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “When you’ve had success, why would you change it. It’s been a pretty good decision not to push our way on him.”
The lax treatment of the Dodgers’ rookie left-hander from Korea has its limits, though.
“We can’t just let them do whatever they want or they would be doing nothing, really, for the most part if you just let them,” Mattingly said. “Certain parts of the program he has to do like everyone else.”
He may not have a chiseled physique -- the first comparison Dodgers scouts made of him was to a young David Wells -- but who really cares so long as he keeps pitching like him? He’s two months through his first season as the pioneer Korean professional leaping straight to the major leagues, and it couldn’t have gone much more smoothly.
Ryu is 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA, and Tuesday was the epitome of his surprisingly breezy cultural exchange. He may be a rookie technically, but be real: He's an eighth-year pro and you can tell he knows how to set hitters up.
He has noted the primary difference between major league hitters and those of the Korean Beaseball Organization is that the Americans are “very aggressive” and “just have brute strength.”
That certainly was the case Tuesday with Ryu facing a muscular collection of Los Angeles Angels hitters, all right-handed: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick. It didn’t matter, because Ryu can use aggression against the perpetrator. He mixed a popping 93-mph fastball with a high-70s changeup and low-70s curveball to baffle them all night.
Ryu allowed just two hits in nine innings.
“I didn’t think my first shutout would come this early in the season,” Ryu said.
Just stay out of his way and this could be just the beginning.