When Clayton Kershaw was formally ruled out to start Opening Day of the 2019 season, snapping his franchise-record streak of taking the ball in a season opener, the Los Angeles Dodgers were down to deciding between Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Hill’s MCL strain left manager Dave Roberts with no other choice but to start Ryu. The left-hander filled in admirably, throwing six innings of one-run ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That wound up serving as a springboard for what’s been an impressive, if not dominant, season thus far for Ryu. He was particularly effective throughout the month of May, capped off with 7.2 scoreless innings against the New York Mets.
He allowed just four hits, issued one walk, finished with seven strikeouts and didn’t have a runner advance past second base. “I think I had my best changeup of the season in this particular outing,” Ryu said through an interpreter.
“When I wanted it to go in for a strike, I was able to command it that way. And when I needed to get some swing and misses and make them chase, I was able to expand it the way I wanted to. It was by far the best feel for that pitch.”
Ryu logged at least six innings in each of his six starts during May, compiling a 5-0 record to go along with 0.59 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 36 strikeouts against just three walks. Ryu had a stretch of 32 scoreless innings, threw a complete-game shutout against the Atlanta Braves and followed that by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals.
Ryu’s ERA was the lowest by a Dodgers starting pitcher in a calendar month since Clayton Kershaw posted a 0.27 ERA in July 2015. Since ERA became an official stat, Ryu’s 1.48 ERA trails only Don Sutton (1.25 ERA in 1972) and Don Drysdale (1.47 ERA in 1968) for the best mark in Dodgers franchise history through 11 starts in a season.
“I don’t really look at the numbers,” Ryu answered when asked if he’s aware of his statistics. “Just because I’m focused on each and every game.
“My main focus going into the game and also each and every game is to make sure I don’t give up walks or an easy hit, and just try to keep damage control. So I’m not really aware of all the numbers.”
Ryu’s performance took the guesswork out of the equation for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts as he served as the bridge to Kenley Jansen, who converted a four-out save. “We have a lot of aces,” Roberts said.
“Hyun-Jin is throwing the ball really well. Tonight, you look at where we were at as far as the ‘pen and needing him to go deep into the game. He knew that, he executed, he did that. Just his feel, I say it every time he starts, it seems like his ability to execute pitches, change speeds, work to all zones, get soft contact … works quick, keeps the defense involved.
“We needed it. Vargas, we had him on the ropes early, couldn’t tack on anymore runs, so we needed Hyun-Jin, and he answered the bell once again.”
As the 32-year-old continues to author one impressive outing after another, the reality of starting in the 2019 MLB All-Star Game becomes more of a possibility. Ryu recently said the potential honor was not at the forefront of his mind.
“I think it’s a bit too early for that conversation,” he reiterated Thursday. “I don’t really put a lot of thought into it. Maybe we can have this conversation later.”
Roberts will lead the National League All-Stars for a second consecutive year, and therefore get to name his starter for the 90th Midsummer Classic. “We’re not there yet but he’s a clear frontrunner right now,” Roberts said.
“Like Cody and all the MVP stuff, I hope we’re having this conversation down the road as well.”