Dodgers: Hyun Jin Ryu- A Career on the Scenic Route

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 16: Hyun-Jin Ryu
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 16: Hyun-Jin Ryu /

A doctor’s office was a new place, scary, but waters uncharted nonetheless. The initial visit was scheduled under undesirable circumstances, a shoulder injury to the pitching arm. It was an issue that plagued him dating all the way back to his days in the Korean League. For Hyun Jin Ryu, this doctor’s visit was the first of many and the first chapter in a story like career. A story still being written.

The injuries and the battle to play baseball is the climax of the book but to get there, there must be a beginning. For Ryu the beginning came two years prior to the injury when he pitched in his first major league game, his first debut: six and one-third innings, 10 hits, five strikeouts, and just one run surrendered.

That season, 2013, was majestic. It was pure excellence from the 26-year old Korean rookie and a season so good, he finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting behind the late Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, and his teammate, Yasiel Puig.

2014- much of the same. Not as good as his rookie year but his sophomore season was still impressive. Ryu worked hard in games, pitching deep into them working through batters with finesse, not velocity. He was a talented young player, a force to be reckoned with. In 2014 it looked like the Dodgers made a worthwhile investment for a player from overseas.

But, that year was the last he would play in for a long time, and it was here that his journey to the majors began, when his dreams appeared to crumble, his future in jeopardy.

It was shoulder pain that you could not confuse with anything else. They knew right then and there that it was bad but nobody anticipated the timetable that would ensue. Ryu had destroyed his pitching shoulder. His arm was wrecked and it would take a team of doctors to reconstruct his biggest tool, his moneymaker.

Ryu was 28-years old.

The first operation took him out of the game for a season, a typical length for a major surgery. But, setbacks became a regular story and soon, the season-long break turned into a season plus an offseason.

The offseason was quiet. No signs of major improvements thus, more time off the diamond. But, after an extended period, there was a sign of life. Perhaps it was an attitude or perhaps it was a miracle but after a long time out of the game, Ryu was on the mend. His recovery, although very long, was promising. And, about halfway through the 2016 season, Hyun Jin Ryu, who was now 29, pitched in his first game since the summer of 2014.

It was bad, very bad. Imagine walking out onto the field in what must have felt like the second debut of your career. A year and a half hiatus from the game you grew up loving and it all came crashing down. This debut: four and two-thirds innings, eight hits, four strikeouts, and six runs surrendered.

It was a disaster, but Ryu was playing a game that thrives on disaster, on challenges, and on the long road back to stardom. The game thrives because it narrows its gladiators, its players, down to the best of the best not totally based on talent but on who wants it. It is narrowed to those with drive and determination.

Adversity was an old friend of Ryu’s. He’d seen its ugly face before. But having dealt with struggle, he was not ready to roll over and quit. Now, he had six months. Six months to be ready for spring where he would debut a third time, but this one was to show everyone he still has it.

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His approach to his career was noticed by all. From the viewpoint of a teammate, “watching him go through those tough two years with injury after injury after injury, that’s a tough mind.” Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen said. “You know, some people can quit, and a lot of things can go badly, but he continued to be patient and work. He’s going to help us win.”

But in the story of Ryu, the chapters are long. A new one began in the spring of 2017.

There, he was amazing. Now entering his 30-year old season, Hyun Jin Ryu made his way onto the opening day roster for the first time since 2014 and he was plugged into the rotation for the first time in as many years. This time, he was here to stay. That season was a pleasant surprise. He pitched in 126.2 innings all while maintaining an ERA of 3.77 and an ERA+ of 111.

He was not done proving himself and at the beginning of 2018, he would finish the job.

So far this year, the spotlights of Dodger Stadium have shined bright on Ryu. He has pitched in four games with an ERA of 1.99. When the count gets to 0-2 the opposition has gone silent at 0-42.

“This is the Ryu I remember” Matt Kemp said endearingly of his longtime teammate.

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His team is behind him and 2018 has been his real coming out party. It is the showcase, the showcase for a career that has thrown obstacles his way at every turn. The Dodgers signed a young man by the name of Hyun Jin Ryu in 2013. A young man that would be a fighter, a model for how to persevere. And, if the team can follow in his footsteps of shining in its darkest hours, a World Series Title may not be far off.