The Dodgers’ Ryu Hyun-jin (left) and the Reds’ Choo Shin-soo share a light moment prior to Thursday’s game. (Yonhap News)
The two South Koreans currently playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) are expected to meet in their first pitcher-batter duel in Los Angeles this weekend.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will host the Cincinnati Reds for a four-game series starting on Thursday, local time. The Dodgers' rookie left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin is listed as a probable starter for Saturday's game, which would set up his first meeting with the Reds' outfielder Choo Shin-soo.
Ryu, who joined the Dodgers last December after seven successful seasons in the domestic Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), has put together a solid rookie season. The 26-year-old has gone 8-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 19 appearances, and has pitched at least five innings in all of his starts.
Among National League (NL) rookies through Wednesday, Ryu ranked first with 122 innings pitched and second behind Shelby Miller of the St. Louis Cardinals with eight victories.
Choo, a full-time big leaguer since 2008, has been one of the most productive MLB outfielders this season, his first with the Reds following a December trade from the Cleveland Indians. The 31-year-old recently enjoyed a career-high 16-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 18 of 21 games in July. He went 2-for-5 with an RBI as the Reds beat the Dodgers 5-2 in the series opener.
Choo's batting average has gone up from .264 on July 1 to .290 after the first game against the Dodgers. He has 14 home runs, 33 RBI and 11 steals so far.
Choo leads all NL outfielders with 68 walks and a .424 on-base percentage, and he is tied with Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies for the most runs scored among NL outfielders with 71.
Both the Dodgers and the Reds have playoff aspirations. The Reds are the reigning NL Central champions and are in third place in the competitive division this season.
The two teams above the Reds, the Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, own the two-best winning percentages in the entire MLB.
The Reds are five games behind the Cards.
The Dodgers, one of the biggest spenders this past offseason, have put a slow start behind them and have been the hottest team in July. They were in last place in the five-team NL West on June 30, but have climbed to first place by winning 15 of 19 games since then.
At a press conference in Los Angeles before the series opener, Choo said he was "proud" to face a fellow South Korean player in the same big league game but insisted his team came first before any personal goals.
"First and foremost, I would like to win all four games of the series," he said. "Even if I don't get a hit off Ryu, I'd be happy if our team wins."
Choo said his teammates have asked him about Ryu but since he's never faced the pitcher, he couldn't give them much of a scouting report.
"I just told my teammates that Ryu may not be a power pitcher, but he can really manage his game," Choo said. "We have all studied him, and I am sure he has analyzed our hitters, too."
Ryu met Choo outside the interview room after the press conference. The pitcher quipped that his first pitch to Choo would be behind his back, and Choo shot back that he will charge the mound right away.
When Choo said he wanted to sweep the Dodgers, Ryu responded, "It's not going to happen."
After the game, Choo and Ryu went out to have dinner at a Korean restaurant in LA's Koreatown. Choo's parents and his wife, and Ryu's parents also joined them.
Ryu signed a six-year contract with the Dodgers worth US$36 million. Choo is playing on a one-year contract worth $7.38 million and will become a free agent after this season. Thanks to his strong performance this year, Choo, represented by the uber-agent Scott Boras, could be in line for a lucrative, multi-year deal.
Ryu has been stronger against right-handed batters than left-handed batters this season. The lefties are batting .294 against him, while the righties are hitting .238 off Ryu.
Choo has struggled against southpaws throughout his career.
This season, he's hitting just .177 against left-handers, compared to .344 against right-handers. All of his 14 home runs have come against right-handed pitchers.
The Ryu-Choo meeting, if or when it materializes, will become the 14th duel between a South Korean pitcher and a South Korean batter in the majors.
The first such meeting came in April 2004 between the Montreal Expos' pitcher Kim Sun-woo and the Florida Marlins' batter Choi Hee-seop. Choi hit a fly out to right in his only at-bat against Kim. Both players are now in the KBO.
The last all-Korean meeting took place in July 2010 between Choo, then with the Indians, and the retired Park Chan-ho of the New York Yankees. Choo struck out swinging against the veteran in his one at-bat.
The Reds will host the Dodgers from Sept. 6 to 8 for their second series in 2013. (Yonhap News)