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Ryu's talent translating well so far

7/28/2013

 

LOS ANGELES -- Saturday's game at Dodger Stadium was far from meaningless -- two good teams with something to play for easing into pennant races -- but hardly the crux of these teams' seasons. Those days will come in August and September, inside their divisions.

It was, however, a colossal sporting event for South Korea.

It was the first time Hyun-Jin Ryu ever faced Shin-Soo Choo.

And, make no mistake: Ryu felt it.

"I was definitely more nervous than before a normal start," Ryu said after dominating Choo and the Cincinnati Reds in a 4-1 win for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ryu was the Randy Johnson of the Korean major leagues before signing a six-year, $36 million deal to join the Dodgers in December. Choo was signed out of a Korean high school by the Seattle Mariners 13 years ago and established himself as a borderline star in Cleveland before being traded to the Reds last December.

The two men were friends and former teammates on the Korean World Baseball Classic team and they had dinner Thursday night. Who paid?

"The owner of the restaurant actually paid," Ryu said through an interpreter.

Not surprising given their star power back home. The Korean TV station MBC sent commentators for the first time since Ryu's U.S. debut and beamed the game live back home, where first pitch was at about 10 a.m. Sunday. The Dodgers credentialed 90 members of the Korean media and sold about 8,000 tickets just in Korean group sales.

And, yes, Psy was in the building.

"This is really big. Historical," said Jongwan Kwak, who works for the Daily Sports Chosun, a Korean sports newspaper. "Chan Ho Park faced Choo in the past, but both those players were not in their heyday at the time. This is two Korean players in their primes and it's viewed with a lot of patriotism."

Ryu didn't shrink from the spotlight. In fact, he seemed to gravitate toward it. He walked Choo the first time he faced him, touching 95 mph but missing the strike zone. He shut him down after that and largely cruised through his seven innings. He struck out nine Reds, the only hit that left a mark being Jay Bruce's home run.

"We don't know the Korean word for, 'brilliant,' but it certainly applies," Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said during the local telecast.

Maybe Ryu's performance was a good sign as the Dodgers got a feel for how he'll perform as the pressure increases and each game's importance is magnified. After a fast start, the Dodgers had the impression Ryu was dealing with some fatigue, not to mention a nagging groin injury, before the All-Star break. They gave him extra rest as he adjusted to pitching on four days' rest, one fewer than he got in Korea.

His performance thus far has been redemptive for the Dodgers' international scouting people and the front office. Many people viewed his contract -- combined with a $26 million posting fee -- as more L.A. overspending.

For the most part, Ryu (9-3) has given the Dodgers a trio of pitchers -- with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke -- capable of dominating and, if you're willing to look this far ahead, could give them a formidable playoff rotation.

"I don't think we really knew what to expect, other than seeing some video and our scouts really liking him," manager Don Mattingly said. "Obviously, they like him enough to make a pretty good investment in him and believed in him. I would have to say he's been better than expected."

Oh, and Skip Schumaker was good, too. The scrappy utility guy gave Ryu something to work with, blasting a two-run home run to center field in the fifth inning, then helped add another run with a seventh-inning double.

That was about it for the action, but it was all the Dodgers needed. The win gave L.A. a 1 1/2-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost to the San Diego Padres.