GLENDALE, Ariz. (CBSLA.com/AP) — Hyun-Jin Ryu begins his second season with the Los Angeles Dodgers confronted by a question that is inevitable for any pitcher coming off a good rookie year.
As in, can the left-hander avoid the so-called sophomore slump?
Excuse Ryu if he doesn’t sound too worried. Slumps are possible anywhere.
“There is a sophomore slump in Korea, too,” Ryu said Tuesday through an interpreter after throwing batting practice for the first time in camp.
Ryu didn’t suffer one then and doesn’t expect to now.
It’s a long way from the Korean Baseball Organization to the National League, from the Hanwha Eagles to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s hard to compare one to the other. It’s also hard to compare Ryu to other second-year players.
He’s 27 years old. He has an Olympic gold medal, pitching South Korea to 3-2 victory over Cuba in the championship final at the 2008 Beijing Games.
As long as he prepares himself as he always has, he said he doesn’t believe he’ll have to make too many changes to his routine and style. That included a few quirks.
Unlike most pitchers, Ryu threw very little between starts in Korea, where he was 18-6 in his rookie year and 17-7 in his second season. When he did work between games, he didn’t throw off a mound.
He maintained that practice as a Dodger, with approval from manager Don Mattingly, who said Ryu knew himself better than anyone else. What worked in Korea, worked in major league baseball.
Ryu was 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA last season as the No. 3 starter in the Dodgers’ rotation. He was also the first Korean pitcher to appear in postseason, pitching seven scoreless innings against St. Louis in the NL championship series.
“I don’t think I have to change anything to avoid a second-year slump as long as I continue to prepare myself as I did in the past,” he said.
If there are any differences in Ryu, it’s in his conditioning. He spends more time in the weight room.
“The only thing I picked up from last year is that I noticed a lot of pitchers are weight lifting,” said Ryu, who pumped iron Tuesday after batting practice.
“I’ll continue to do it,” he said. “I’ve not been overwhelmed or burned out by it. I feel more comfortable. Everything was new for me last year. I just feel more relaxed than last year.”
Additional strength is a hedge against fatigue late in a long season. He appeared in 32 games last year.
Ryu’s first impression last spring was somewhat comical. He struggled to get through a 20-minute run, finishing far behind the rest of the Dodger pitchers. This year, he kept up with four other pitchers in his group, including Clayton Kershaw.
Before an outdoor NHL game on Jan. 25 between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium, Ryu was spotted running up and down the stadium steps.
“Working hard is contagious,” he said then.
There’s a theory that Ryu has a chance to improve rather than slump in his second Dodgers season because he’s more comfortable with teammates and more confident about his role.
“He was pretty darn good last year,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “If you can promise me I’ll get the same guy this year, I’ll definitely take that. He just has so much talent. He has an amazing ability to change speeds and keep hitters off-balance. Only a great athlete with a great body control can do that.”
“He just has a great feel of what’s happening around him. He’s able to adjust so quickly and easily to different situations,” he said.
Along with fellow rookie Yasiel Puig, Ryu was considered a candidate for National League Rookie of the Year after making a splash in 2013.
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