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High aspirations

Ryu Hyun-jin confident of winning rotation spot in first big-league season

Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin signs autographs during spring training in Glendale, Arizona, Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin signs autographs during spring training in Glendale, Arizona, Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
GLENDALE, Arizona (Yonhap News) ― Entering his first Major League Baseball season, South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers said Tuesday he is confident that he can beat stiff competition to join the team’s starting rotation.

The 25-year-old signed a six-year, $36 million contract in December last year, leaving the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization, his home since 2006.

The former MVP of the South Korean league reported to the Dodgers’ spring training at Camelback Ranch here in Arizona Tuesday, along with other pitchers and catchers.

After inking the multi-year deal, the left-hander had repeatedly said he felt he would have a successful first big league season. In his meeting with reporters after his first practice, Ryu remained just as confident.

“Now that spring training has begun, I think it’s time to show what I have,” he said. “I obviously have to compete for the job, and if I compete, I absolutely have to win. I will try to secure a high spot in the starting rotation.”

The Dodgers have almost an embarrassment of starting arms. They boast two former Cy Young Award winners with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke. 

Even before signing Ryu, the Dodgers had experienced pitchers such as Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley, all of whom have enjoyed success as big league starters.

Ryu has been listed as the team’s No. 3 starter on the depth chart on the team’s official website, but the rookie said he will still have to earn his spot.

“We have more exhibition games here than we do in Korea,” Ryu noted. “First and foremost, it will be important to pitch well in those games.”

When asked if he’d thought about the possibility of pitching out of the bullpen, Ryu said, “Such a thought has never entered my mind.”

Ryu had been one of the most dominant starters during his seven KBO seasons, with a 98-52 record, a 2.80 ERA and 1,238 strikeouts in 1,269 innings.

In 2006, he became the first KBO player to claim both the MVP and the Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.

Ryu averaged nearly 15 wins a season until 2012, when he went 9-9 for the Eagles, the KBO’s worst team. He still posted a 2.66 ERA along with a league-leading 210 strikeouts in 182 2/3 innings.

Ryu said his accomplishments in the KBO should translate into success in the big leagues.

“I think I can have success here if I pitch the way I did in Korea,” he said.

“Facing major-league hitters will be difficult at first, but I think it will be OK after the first couple of months.”

Ryu said his most serious challenge may come off the field.

Because of his limited English, Ryu said he hasn’t been able to communicate much with teammates. He said the team has introduced him to an English tutor and they will start their sessions on Wednesday.

The usually effervescent and playful Ryu said he’s become decidedly quieter in the U.S.

“Once I enter the clubhouse, I just try to find my locker and stay quiet,” Ryu quipped. “I am trying to keep a low profile and to be careful with how I carry myself.”
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