Hyun-Jin Ryu’s sore shoulder, past and present, cause for concern

This is potentially unsettling news that Bill Shakin tweeted on Friday.

And this from David Vassegh.

This comes on the heels of missing time in 2014 on two separate occasions with shoulder injuries. He missed 23 days between starts both times he was out with a sore shoulder in 2014. He returned to throw six innings of 1-run ball against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

But this isn’t the only time he’s experienced shoulder issues. A few days after hitting the DL for the first time last season, Daniel penned a post about Ryu’s shoulder issues while in Korea.

“The first thing to notice: The injury forced him to sit out for 19 days, not 10. Maybe he meant 10 in addition to his normal rest? This isn’t a big deal, since Ryu will be on DL for 15 days either way. The bigger issue is that it doesn’t look like Ryu returned at full strength. He returned in the bullpen. Between the injury on June 28th and his start on September 8th, Ryu only pitched 3-2/3 relief innings. He did not pitch at all between August 2nd and September 2nd after allowing three runs and getting one out.

While we can’t be 100% sure that Ryu’s shoulder was the only cause of the extra time off and the reduced workload, it isn’t a great sign. Dan of MyKBO states that he believes that the second period of time off was for additional rest and to fully recover from the shoulder issue.

If there’s any silver lining in these game logs, it’s that Ryu returned for three good starts at the end of the season. His ERA in the 22-2/3 post-injury innings was 1.99 (compared to 3.73 in 101-1/3 pre-injury innings), but his K/9 rate dropped from 9.68 pre-injury to 7.15 post-injury. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to his velocity. The post-injury sample is small, but at least he didn’t unravel.

The shoulder injury Ryu experienced in 2011 hasn’t really impacted him long-term, as we have been lucky enough to see so far. But, unfortunately, the impact wasn’t as minor as previously stated.”

So, that’s three shoulder injuries in less than five years. Also, he is a Tommy John “survivor,” so that has to be taken into consideration. He also missed time in 2014 with a gluteus strain. He hasn’t been the model of health in his short MLB career thus far.

Pedro Moura tweeted this during Ryu’s start on Tuesday.

I brushed it off, but after today’s news, it definitely syncs up. Ryu isn’t a fireballer by any means, but 87 MPH on his fastball isn’t going to work. According to PITCH F/X, he threw 15 4-seam fastballs slower than 87 MPH in 2014 (some of which may have been misclassified). Topping out at 87 in spring, after already getting a later start than the other pitchers with mid-back tightness early in spring training isn’t good.

Ryu is one of the more underrated pitchers in the game, but questions about his durability are now justified. He threw 192 innings (30 starts) in his rookie season, which is solid, even for a 26-year-old rookie. He was expected to take a step forward and become a quality, innings-eating pitcher in 2014, but he thew just 152 innings in 26 starts. This is partially why those Cole Hamels rumors won’t go away (and expect them to reignite).

I’m not saying the Dodgers need to go out and get Hamels or a David Price (who isn’t even available … yet) at this moment, but it’s something to watch come June and July. Ryu is a quality pitcher when healthy, but if he can’t give the Dodgers 32-33 starts and 200-plus innings (which he likely won’t this season), along with Zack Greinke‘s elbow (which hasn’t been that big a deal) and the noted injury histories of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, and you can see why acquiring a front-line, durable starter is so appealing.

Ryu potentially beginning the season on the disabled list won’t test the Dodgers’ starting pitcher depth as much as some might think, though.

This is good news for guys like David Aardsma, Mike Adams, David HuffSergio Santos and Chin-hui Tsao. Hell, even Erik Bedard has a chance to break camp with the team if this is the case (but I wouldn’t put a ton of money on it). But Joe Wieland probably has the inside track for a start, but Mike Bolsinger could also be an option. Zach Lee is a distant third because he has yet to pitch in the majors, while Wieland and Bolsinger both have MLB experience, and the Dodgers aren’t going to use an option on Lee for one start in mid-April.

An 8-man bullpen could be beneficial to start the season, especially with Kenley Jansen not expected back before mid-May. It could help to spread out the workload. Brandon League also has a bum shoulder, so I’d expect a couple of non-roster invitees to make the club at this point.

At this moment, the Dodgers won’t go as far as they want in the playoffs without a healthy Ryu. He’s that good and was primed for a big breakout season. And he still might be, as the severity of the shoulder issue isn’t known. It probably isn’t too bad, but it’s something that will need monitoring for at least the rest of this season, if not the rest of his career. Thankfully, it’s only March 20, and the Dodgers have some depth.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.