MARYVALE, Ariz. -- We have yet to see how pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu will fare on the mound this season, but here’s one scouting report on his batting skills: Pitch him low.
Hitting for the first time since he was in high school eight years ago, Ryu kept the bat on his shoulder Monday and looked at three pitches, all strikes, then walked back to the dugout. Speaking through an interpreter after the spring training game against the Brewers, Ryu said he didn’t swing because he thought the pitches were too low.
“It was an honor to face major league pitchers,” said Ryu, who laid down a sacrifice bunt in his second plate appearance. “I will adjust myself to put the bat on the balls.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had a one-word assessment of Ryu’s batting skills ... if you can call it a word: “Ehh.”
Then he elaborated.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” Mattingly added. “His swing looks decent. It’s just a matter of getting a little time in on it.”
Of more concern to Mattingly and the Dodgers, of course, is how Ryu fares on the mound. He signed a six-year, $36 million contract with Los Angeles over the winter and is the first pitcher to go directly to the majors from the Korean Baseball Organization. Monday was his third start and fourth game of the spring, and it was of enough interest back home that the game was televised in Korea.
Ryu held the Brewers scoreless through the first three innings, then allowed three runs in the fourth. In 4 2/3 innings, he gave up five hits and two walks, struck out three, and allowed no dents to his confidence.
“I gave up one legitimate hit,” he said. “I regret giving it up.”
Unlike other pitchers, Ryu does not throw bullpen sessions between starts because he didn’t do so in Korea and was successful with that routine.
“It’s different because you don’t see the bullpens so you have to wait five days every time,” Mattingly said. “He looked crisp. I see the change of speeds and the way the guys react and I listen to [catcher A.J. Ellis]. I’m asking A.J. when he gives up a hit or a walk if he’s losing his stuff and he says, ‘Nah, he’s still good.’”
Monday’s outing left Ryu with a 5.71 ERA this spring. He’s allowed 13 hits while striking out 13 in 10 2/3 innings. He said he thinks he’s getting a better feel for his breaking balls, better command overall and his fastball is getting stronger. He says the Dodgers staff has given him confidence, telling him he is “the king of the mound” and to do what he thinks is best when pitching.
Ryu evidently isn’t letting South Korea’s recent tensions with North Korea -- earlier this week, the North Korean army declared invalid the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean war -- bother him, either, saying he didn’t think North Korea would be aggressive enough to start a war despite the recent threats.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, whom the Dodgers signed to a seven-year, $43 million contract last summer, had two hits Monday to raise his average to .452.
“I took him out today and he said, ‘Why?’” Mattingly said, then joked, “Trying to protect his average.”
Mattingly said Puig’s play has surprised him, though he declined to speculate on his chances of making the team.
“He needs to play,” Mattingly said. “The more games he plays, the more experience he’s going to have. He’s rough. He’s a wild horse. He just plays wild, but it’s fun to watch.
“The thing I like about Puig is he doesn’t really swing and miss. For a big power guy, you don’t see him swing and miss when it’s in the strike zone. He usually gets a piece of it or fouls it back. He doesn’t swing and miss in the strike zone.”
Mattingly said there are no negatives to Puig’s game, joking that the only thing he can’t seem to do is “hit the cutoff man.”