ATLANTA -- Hyun-Jin Ryu says he thinks he's going to be OK. He said through an interpreter that he felt good enough to "jump right back on the mound," about an hour after he left the Los Angeles Dodgers' 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves because of a strained right gluteal muscle Wednesday night.
But in the same breath, he remarked, "You also want to be cautious with it," and the last thing the Dodgers want to do is to err on the side of reckless with one of their most important assets.
Ryu, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw have been the heartbeat of the team all season long, and so even if this injury amounts to just a fleeting pain in the you-know-what, it seems like a pretty good bet Ryu will miss his next scheduled start. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly seemed to be suggesting just that before he veered back into less committal territory in keeping with the team's tight lid on injury news.
"Anytime a guy comes off that quickly and kind of waves to the dugout, to think that five days later, he's going to be pitching ... I'd just be guessing," Mattingly said. "We need to get some info."
They'll get a bit more information Friday after Ryu undergoes an MRI exam and meets with team doctor Neal ElAttrache.
But count on them to take a big-picture view and hold him out, unless the injury simply vanishes in the next few days. They have earned the right to be cautious in mid-August with an eye on late September and October.
Even though they lost a game in the standings after a frustrating loss -- they nearly rallied off lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel before it ended in Matt Kemp's double-play groundout -- they still lead the San Francisco Giants by five games. And, with veteran Kevin Correia ready to step right in for another start after pitching six strong innings in his Dodgers debut Monday, the team has an option it didn't have only a week ago. It also helps that Dan Haren has stabilized his season.
In other words, this would have felt a lot more like a crisis three weeks ago than it does today. The last thing the Dodgers want is for Ryu to go back on the mound, alter his mechanics because he feels slightly out of whack and be lost for the playoff push.
"It'd be a huge blow for us," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "The way our pitching staff has been rolling, our starting rotation in particularly, has been keeping us in ballgames, giving us a great chance to win, especially those top three guys."
Many of the Dodgers watched part of the Giants' afternoon game in San Francisco before taking the field here. Most of them are perfectly aware of the standings.
"I don't think we’re at that 'cushion' stage yet. We're still in the building phase," Ellis said. "We just want to keep on winning games, keep on winning series."
Had Ryu avoided injury, Wednesday's outing would have been something of a victory for him, considering he lasted only three innings against the Braves in the 2013 National League Division Series. The Braves didn't hit him particularly hard Wednesday while scoring three runs. A couple of two-out RBI singles by Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton were the key events.
Ryu (13-6) had been on a roll, having gone 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his five previous starts.
It's becoming apparent why the Dodgers were so intent on adding starting pitching before the trade deadline and why they were willing to take on the contracts of two pitchers who cleared waivers -- and thus were passed on by every other National League team -- after the deadline. Roberto Hernandez will pitch Thursday afternoon's game here in place of injured Josh Beckett, and now Correia could retain a rotation spot for a bit longer. One of the Dodgers' other options, Stephen Fife, just shut down the rest of his Triple-A season, and most of next, after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
"We do have some options," Mattingly said.
Once again, two weeks ago this Ryu injury would have felt like an entirely different threat level.