The Dodgers had many question marks headed into 2017 but one of the biggest was if Hyun-Jin Ryu was even going to pitch professionally for the Dodgers. By that standard, this season has a been a huge success for Ryu but it has not been without some ups and downs.
The downs came first. The Dodgers gave Ryu the tough task of making his first two starts against the Rockies at Coors and the World Champion Cubs on the road. Predictably he failed to impress in either game. The worry warts begin in earnest however in his 3rd start when he pitched against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium and gave up three home runs. In three starts, fourteen innings, ten earned runs, and a whopping six home runs. The Ryu Roller Coaster was at the bottom and it was hard to see how it could power itself to the top.
Just as many were writing him off as a great story but not someone you want in a Dodger rotation he rolled out a great start in his fourth try against the Giants at Dodger Stadium. The cart was headed up. Ryu followed that up with a solid start against the Phillies and had a season-high nine strikeouts, the cart was gaining momentum so the Dodgers put him on the 10 day DL either because it was legitimate or they simply needed the room and he was deemed the DL pitcher of the moment.
The Dodgers did him no favors, aligning him with the Rockies at home for his first start when activated off the disabled list. This would be the 3rd time in only five weeks he would be facing the Rockies and it did not go well. Ryu walked a season-high six hitters and put up the lowest game score (14) of his career. The roller coaster cart was falling back. Gravity was winning.
The Dodgers gave him one more start but the writing already seemed to be on the wall. Ryu pitched a decent game against the Marlins but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the rotation. On May 19th it was announced that Ryu was headed to the bullpen. The Roller Coaster cart was back at the bottom.
The question had to be asked. Was Ryu able to pitch out of the bullpen? Was he going to be an asset or a liability, and if he was a liability how long would the Dodgers keep him on the active roster?
Ryu answered those questions by bailing Kenta Maeda out on May 25th with four brilliant innings and picked up the noteworthy four innings save.
On 5/31/17 Ryu was placed back in the rotation and has made six straight starts. They have not been brilliant, but they have certainly been effective.
Over his last six starts, Ryu has pitched 32 innings, given up 35 hits, 15 Earned runs, and seven home runs. The better news is that he has walked only six hitters while striking out 31. While hittable, his ability to limit the passed ball and strike out hitters has helped him stay in the games. The Dodgers are 3 – 3 in those six games. I think if a team can win at a .500 level from the starts the 5th starter is making, they have to be happy with that outcome.
The Ryu rollercoaster hasn’t peaked yet, it is slowly moving toward the top. Will it fall back again or chug to the top? Looking at the Fangraphs pitch types he is pitching differently. The fastball velocity is just a notch below vintage Ryu but he has ditched the slider in favor of more curveballs and changeups.
Now the question is, can this Ryu be a positive for the Dodgers? All season the Dodgers have had to dodge the rotation bullet. Urias made it easier when he went down for the year even though that was a massive blow to the Dodgers postseason hopes given I expected Urias to be the Dodgers 2nd best pitcher by October. Even without Urias, they have six bonafide starters. They have done an exceptional job of juggling their assets and maybe that is what they will continue to do.
You could easily see a case where each of these fragile pitchers needs time (say 10 days) to heal every few weeks.