With another solid spring outing in the books, South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, coming off two surgeries, appears on course for a return to the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation.
Ryu tossed four scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday (local time) at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. The Dodgers ended up losing 5-4, as the Brewers' offense came to life immediately after Ryu left the game.
Ryu was perfect through the first two innings against the Brewers. He also struck out former Korea Baseball Organization MVP Eric Thames to start the second inning, for his first punchout of the game.
Ryu worked around a leadoff single by Scooter Gennett in the third, and made quick work of the fourth inning, with two groundouts and a flyout.
At the plate, Ryu knocked in the Dodgers' first run of the game in the bottom fourth. With the men at the corners with two outs, Ryu got a single up the middle off Matt Garza, chasing the Brewers' starter from the game.
Luis Avilan took over from Ryu to begin the top fifth for the Dodgers, and he promptly gave up four runs without recording an out.
The Dodgers got a run back in the bottom fifth and two more in the bottom eighth before losing by a single run.
In three spring starts so far, Ryu has given up only one earned run in nine innings with eight strikeouts and one walk.
The 29-year-old left-hander has pitched in just one game over the past two regular seasons. He missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing a shoulder surgery. He returned for one start in July 2016 and was shut down with elbow issues.
Ryu claimed before the start of the camp that he had no health issues and that he was ready to battle for a spot in the rotation.
Ryu has increased his workload with each outing, and the Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts has said he's pleased with the pitcher's velocity so far. The southpaw has averaged about 87 mph with his fastball, down some 3 mph from his pre-surgery days.
"We're a better team with Ryu in the starting rotation," said Roberts told MLB.com.
Ryu told Orange County Register that he didn't know how fast he threw his pitches but said, "(The Brewers) weren't really making hard contact."
"I was never a guy who got outs with my velocity," he added.
"If I can get up to around my 2013 season (rookie year), I'll be able to pitch effectively."
The Dodgers could use all the arms they could get their hands on. Last year, they set a major league record by sending 28 players to the disabled list, including starters Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood.
For this season, Kershaw, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill have locked down three spots in the rotation, with Ryu, Wood and McCarthy battling for the remaining spots.
McCarthy (13) and Wood (11 1/3) have both logged more innings than Ryu, but McCarthy has given up 10 runs -- three unearned -- on 14 hits, including three home runs, in his four starts so far. Wood has allowed four runs in his four appearances, two of them out of the bullpen.
The Dodgers may try to ease Ryu back into the rotation at some point in the season. Reports say Ryu could remain in Arizona for extended spring training, or the Dodgers could place him on the DL at the start of the regular season and give him more time to get ready.
Ryu signed a six-year, US$36 million deal before the 2013 season. He is under contract through 2018 but can opt out in 2017 if he pitches 750 innings combined from 2013 to 2017. He's stuck at 344. (Yonhap)