Hyun-Jin Ryu is back, but expectations should be tempered

Hyun-Jin Ryu is back. Well, in a sense. He’s back insofar as he’s going to start tonight’s game against the Padres against Drew Pomeranz. But it remains to be seen if he’s actually back.

Ryu has missed the last season-and-a-half after having shoulder surgery last May. He has not appeared in a Major League game since Game 3 of the 2014 National League Division Series (Oct. 6, 2014) — a 6-inning, 1-run performance on the road against the Cardinals. In that game, Ryu averaged 92.8 MPH on his 4-seam fastball. Normally, he would sit around 91 MPH and top out at 95 MPH with his fastball before his injury.

Reports from Ryu’s rehab having him anywhere from the 85-88 MPH range and “touching” 90 MPH. Or in other words:

For a guy who averaged 91 MPH on his fastball, averaging 88 is quite the difference. And there isn’t much reason to think he’ll regain that lost 3 MPH.

Ryu is a former Tommy John surgery recipient, and it almost feels like it would have been better if he were coming back from an elbow injury. Shoulder injuries are much more worrisome than elbow injures (though, neither are preferred). Brandon McCarthy — despite it being just one outing — showed promise after coming back from TJ with plus-velocity. The chance for him to be a significant contributor the rest of this season is much better than Ryu’s.

Ryu did have plus command before the injury, but it remains to be seen if he still does. That is less concerning than the diminished velocity. And with the lower velo, Ryu is going to have to be pinpoint with his command. Not many pitchers — lefties or otherwise — have sustained success sitting at 88 MPH.

The pitch that might suffer most as a result of this is his changeup. It was his go-to secondary pitch in his first two seasons, but there’s no telling how effective it’s going to be with a slower fastball. He might have to rely on his breaking pitches, which showed some improvement since his professional debut.

It’s often forgotten just how good Ryu was in his first two seasons. He had a 3.17 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 3.27 xFIP, 49.2 GB%, 20.7 K%, 5.5 BB%, 7.5 HR/FB% and averaged 172 innings and 3.7 fWAR. He was nearly a 4-win pitcher without even cracking 200 innings. He was quite the productive pitcher. He looked like he was rounding into form and ready to take off. Then, baseball happened.

Barring anything unforeseen, Ryu’s performance shouldn’t preclude the Dodgers from acquiring a pitcher before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

It’s probably best not to expect much from Ryu this season. That way, if he doesn’t come close to regaining his old form, it’s less of a disappointment. It’s highly unlikely — at least this season — that Ryu is the guy he was before the injury. He was a legitimate No. 2 starter. Now, if he’s a decent No. 4/5 starter, that’d be a huge win. Then again, even that feels optimistic.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.