Hyun-Jin Ryu’s recovery is too important to rush

Hyun-Jin Ryu will start the season on the disabled list, which is something we already knew. But his rehab from left shoulder surgery has continued to progress without any further setbacks.

Ryu threw a 20-pitch bullpen session last Friday at Camelback Ranch, and he felt fine afterward. Ryu’s next bullpen session is scheduled for Tuesday. Chan Ho Park paid a visit to Camelback Ranch to watch Ryu’s bullpen session and offer some words of wisdom for him on his road back to the mound for the Dodgers.

Park stressed to Ryu the importance of not rushing his recovery, and he also spoke about the overall impact of Ryu on young Korean players who may also be battling injury.

Park told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

“I told him, ‘Don’t drive too fast,’ meaning he should make sure he’s 100 percent when he returns, not 99 percent,” Park said. “Korean players, they want to play when they’re hurt. Sometimes you look brave, but it’s not a smart idea. It’s bad for yourself and bad for your team. Ryu understands he has to be smart and do it the right way. He’s been pitching with soreness in the past, but now he needs to be 100 percent.”

Obviously the Dodgers do not want to rush Ryu back, and there have been some conflicting reports on his timetable in returning to MLB action.

Ryu’s absence from the Dodger rotation has been felt since he last pitched in a Major League game on October 6, 2014 in Game 3 of the National League Division Series versus the Cardinals in St. Louis. Ryu pitched six innings in the game allowing one run on five hits with four strikeouts and a walk in the no-decision. His shoulder issue was one the Dodgers were aware of when they signed him out of South Korea, but unfortunately his recovery progress has been slow.

The Dodgers were counting on Ryu’s return after Zack Greinke signed with the D-backs this offseason. Fortunately they have enough pitching depth to not only weather the storm of spring injuries but also to improve upon the starting pitching over last season even after losing Greinke. Ryu is often overlooked, but since his rookie season in 2013 through 2015, Ryu (even after missing all of the 2015 season) is second to Kershaw and ahead of third-place Greinke on FanGraph’s advanced stat leader board amongst qualified Dodger starters. When looking at all the qualified MLB pitchers during that same timeframe, Clayton Kershaw is first, and Ryu and Greinke are at 14 and 15. Alex Wood and Scott Kazmir are at 29 and 48.

Ryu will not pitch in Cactus League play, with a more realistic return date of sometime in June, hopefully. There has been some positive progression in his rehab. The left-hander, who is set to turn 30 years old on March 25, has taken steps forward in his recovery with two consecutive and successful bullpen sessions, including a 20-pitch all-fastball session on March 14. Ryu had not pitched since Feb. 26.

When Ryu is healthy, he is a mainstay in the Dodgers rotation. He has a career ERA of 3.17 (111 ERA+) and a K/BB ratio of 3.76 in two seasons with the Dodgers. Since his debut in 2013, Ryu ranks 21st in baseball in ERA (3.17), 14th in FIP (2.97) and 23rd in K/BB (3.76) among qualified starting pitchers.

In addition to the extended rehab of Ryu, the Dodgers also lost starter Brett Anderson (back surgery) and Frankie Montas (rib surgery) this spring. Brandon McCarthy isn’t due back until mid-season after Tommy John surgery last year. Brandon Beachy experienced arm soreness after his last spring training start, and Mike Bolsinger was a late scratch on Sunday afternoon with left side abdominal tightness.

Bolsinger, who pitched admirably for the Dodgers in the first half of 2015 (along with Carlos Frias), will most likely be a respectable fifth starter to open the season with. Beachy, who looks much improved since he pitched for the Dodgers briefly last season, could also be called upon. Zach Lee and Ross Stripling could also see some time in the rotation while Ryu recuperates.

The pitching depth has already been tested early on for the Dodgers, but a second half injection of additional pitching help from a healthy Ryu, Anderson and McCarthy could potentially make us forget about early season Bolsinger and Beachy starts. Albeit, neither aforementioned pitchers are weak fifth starter candidates, the addition of a healthy Ryu back into the starting rotation would be inspiring not only for the Dodgers in their quest for their fourth consecutive NL West title, but also to Ryu’s Korean fans and aspiring players back in his home country.

It has been a pleasure to watch the personable Ryu pitch for the Dodgers especially during his heartfelt rookie campaign when he impressed by finishing with a 14-8 record and a solid 3.00 ERA in 30 starts. He also became the first Korean pitcher to win a start in the MLB postseason with his Game 3 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. It was enjoyable to see his Korean fans supporting him and coming out to watch him pitch not only at Dodger Stadium but also at ballparks across MLB. The Dodgers would like nothing more than to see Ryu return 100 percent healthy and to be able to contribute similarly to his first two seasons with the Dodgers.

We won’t be able to celebrate Ryu’s return by slurping ramen noodles just yet, but Ryu’s rehab has proceeded, despite being shut down for a few weeks earlier in the season. His return to the rotation will make a deep team even deeper.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.