Ryu Hyun-jin's first career Opening Day start for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was a significant occasion on multiple levels, potentially fraught with stress. He was filling in for Clayton Kershaw, the longtime franchise ace and three-time Cy Young Award winner who had opened the past eight seasons. And Ryu was the first South Korean to start on Opening Day since Park Chan-ho for the Texas Rangers in 2002.
But after throwing six solid innings of one-run ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 12-5 win at Dodger Stadium, Ryu said he felt "zero pressure."
"I've been feeling great since the start of spring training, and I went out there today with confidence in myself," said Ryu, who struck out eight and walked none for the W. "I wanted to be aggressive from the beginning and kept them scoreless in early innings, and it worked out pretty well."
Park also started and won the first game of the 2001 season for the Dodgers. Asked if comparisons with Park, the first major leaguer out of South Korea, had bothered him, Ryu said with a smile: "I paid no mind to it at all. I had a good game today, and I'll prepare for the next game the best I can."
Ryu struck out the side in the first inning, and the Dodgers gave him more than enough run support. They were up 3-0 through the second and exploded for four runs on three long balls in the third.
Ryu was doing his part too, retiring 13 straight batters in one stretch. His only blemish was a solo home run by Adam Jones in the sixth.
Ryu said he was even less pleased with a double by Eduardo Escobar right after that home run.
"I tried to get a strike on the first pitch (with a four-seam fastball), but it was a mistake," Ryu said. "Escobar didn't miss it, and I think that was the worst part of the game today. I kept being aggressive, and I think the hitters were sitting on fastballs."
On a positive note, Ryu said he was most satisfied with not allowing any walks, adding, "I hate walking batters more than anything else."
Ryu also didn't walk anyone in 15 innings in spring training.
"I was happy with my command today. I got behind in the count a few times, but I am glad I didn't walk anybody," he said. "It's because I pitched with confidence. I had my cutter working today."
Ryu was due to bat third in the bottom of the sixth, with the Dodgers ahead 7-1, and he was lifted for pinch hitter Alex Verdugo.
Ryu said he never even thought about going back out to the mound for the seventh because "this was only the first game of the season, and I'll have to start again after four days." (Yonhap)