The Korea Herald


Ex-MLB ace Ryu Hyun-jin fizzles in 1st KBO regular-season start since '12

By Yonhap

Published : March 23, 2024 - 16:07

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Hanwha Eagles starter Ryu Hyun-jin pitches against the LG Twins during a Korea Baseball Organization Opening Day game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Saturday. (Yonhap) Hanwha Eagles starter Ryu Hyun-jin pitches against the LG Twins during a Korea Baseball Organization Opening Day game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Saturday. (Yonhap)

Former major league ERA champion Ryu Hyun-jin struggled in his first regular-season start in South Korea since 2012 on Saturday, unable to live up to considerable pregame hype amid shaky command and shoddy defense behind him.

Ryu, who rejoined the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in February after 11 years in the majors, gave up five runs on six hits and three walks in only 3 2/3 innings against the LG Twins in his Opening Day start at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. Three of those runs were unearned, as they came after an error by second baseman Moon Hyun-bin. Ryu did not strike out a batter for only the second time in his KBO career.

Ryu left the game with the Eagles trailing 5-2, with Lee Tae-yang recording the final out of the fourth inning.

Ryu, 36, first pitched for the Eagles from 2006 to 2012. He was one of the KBO's most dominant pitchers during that seven-year period, winning the MVP and the Rookie of the Year awards in 2006, nabbing two ERA titles, and leading the league in strikeouts five times. This was Ryu's sixth KBO Opening Day assignment.

The left-hander went on to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2013 to 2019 and then the Toronto Blue Jays from 2020 to 2023.

Ryu's return generated so much buzz that his bullpen sessions and intrasquad scrimmages during spring training drew tens of thousands of clicks on the Eagles' official YouTube channel. The Eagles sold out preseason home games even when Ryu wasn't pitching. And Saturday's game was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 23,750 fans.

Ryu couldn't have asked for an easier first inning, as he retired the side in order on nine straight fastballs, inducing two groundouts and a flyout.

Ryu took the mound to a thunderous ovation from the Eagles' cheering section on the third base side, and leadoff man Park Hae-min took off his helmet and bowed to Ryu, a sign of respect for the veteran.

The Twins didn't show Ryu much mercy the rest of the game.

In the second inning, they drew a one-out walk and then pieced together two straight two-out hits to load the bases.

No. 9 hitter Shin Min-jae then swung at a 2-2 fastball and dropped it into shallow left field for a two-run single, stunning Ryu and the Eagles to take a 2-0 lead.

The Eagles got a run back for Ryu in the top of the third and tied the game at 2-2 with another run in the fourth.

However, the wheels came off for Ryu in the fourth, exacerbated by Moon's error.

Ryu got two quick outs before walking Moon Sung-ju on seven pitches. Shin then hit a groundball at Moon for what should have been the inning's final out, but Moon instead misplayed the ball and let it skip into right field.

With runners now at the corners, Park Hae-min drove in the go-ahead run with a single to center. Park then stole second base, and Hong Chang-ki knocked in two more runs with a single.

Kim Hyun-soo followed up with the Twins' third straight single off Ryu, and with cleanup Austin Dean on deck, Ryu's day was done after 86 pitches -- 55 of them for strikes.

Ryu threw 45 fastballs, 18 curveballs, 14 changeups and nine cutters. He had trouble locating his secondary pitches for strikes, and his fastballs, hardly overpowering to begin with, weren't competitive enough in this game.

In his final season as a Dodger, Ryu led Major League Baseball (MLB) with a 2.32 ERA and finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

Ryu became a free agent after the 2023 season. He'd missed most of the 2022 season and the first half of the 2023 campaign after undergoing his second Tommy John elbow operation, but he pitched to a solid 3.46 ERA in 11 starts last year after the return.

Rather than sticking around in MLB, Ryu, who turns 37 on Monday, decided to come home to finish his career where it began.