GLENDALE, Arizona (Yonhap News) ― South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers said here Thursday he was pleased with his first bullpen session for his new Major League Baseball club.
Ryu, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract last December, has joined the Dodgers’ spring training at Camelback Ranch here in Arizona this week. After two days of running and light tossing, Ryu threw in the bullpen for the first time Thursday, as he competes for a spot in the Dodgers’ starting rotation.
The left-hander threw 40 pitches, a mix of fastballs, curves and changeups, to A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers’ starting catcher.
“For a first session, I felt pretty good,” Ryu said. “I had good command of my fastball. I plan to throw 10 more pitches in my next session on Sunday and throw more breaking pitches. My curve didn’t break as much as I wanted.”
Ryu also said Ellis told him to “pitch any way I wanted to pitch” and that helped him relax before their first session together.
The Dodgers began their camp with seven starting pitchers aside from Ryu, who has been listed by some as the team’s No. 3 starter behind two former Cy Young Award winners: Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
After leaving the bullpen, Ryu moved to the batting cage and hit about 20 balls off a tee. With no designated hitter in the National League, Ryu will have to bat once the season begins, likely in the ninth spot as most NL starters do.
Ryu batted cleanup for his high school team in South Korea but hasn’t picked up a bat since joining professional baseball in 2006.
With hitting coach Mark McGwire, a former All-Star slugger, placing balls on the tee, Ryu said he wasn’t that nervous even though it was his first batting practice for the team.
Ryu struggled in the running proportion of the practice for the second straight day. He’d made headlines Wednesday for coming in dead last among about 40 pitchers in the mile run, as he staggered to the finish line huffing and puffing.
It led to some skeptical U.S. media reports to call on Ryu to quit smoking. But his running performance on Thursday may have done little to silence his critics.
With players running back and forth from the right-field foul pole to the one in left field, Ryu stayed in the lead pack in the first two trips. He fell behind in the third lap, and by the fourth and the final lap, Ryu began trotting.
“We were told to cover the distance in 35 seconds, but everyone was doing it in 26 seconds,” Ryu quipped. “I don’t think the players listened to the trainers.”
The pitcher claimed that though he may be slower than his teammates on the field, he will have plenty of power and energy once he takes the mound.
Pressed about his smoking habits, Ryu shot back, “Smoking isn’t a crime. I won’t pay attention (to media reports).”
The 25-year-old is the first South Korean player to make the jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to the big leagues.
He pitched the past seven seasons for the Hanwha Eagles, going 98-52 with a 2.80 ERA and 1,238 strikeouts in 1,269 innings.
In 2006, he became the first KBO player to win the MVP and the Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.