PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks knew little about Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu before an introductory meeting Saturday, with manager Kirk Gibson calling the game “a feeling-out process.”
The D-backs felt a little too much of Ryu in the Dodgers’ 7-5 victory at Chase Field. He held them to three runs in six innings, struck out a career-high nine while commanding four pitches and even had his first three major league hits.
The Dodgers spent $36 million on a six-year contact to lure Ryu away from the Korean professional league over the winter, and it already looks like a bargain. The loss of Zack Greinke for a couple of months suddenly looks a lot easier to bear.
“What I’ve liked about Hyun-Jin, it’s almost like he knows he can pitch, and there’s a confidence there that you like. That always gets you over a lot of hurdles,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
“I’m sure he has still lots of things to deal with as far as the culture and the language and a lot of things. But the pitching part, he came in with that, and that confidence has been there since day one.”
The D-backs were at a disadvantage going in, as they had seen Ryu only on film, good but not quite the same thing as looking at him from the batter’s box. They got an eyeful Saturday.
“You face a guy a first time, there are a lot of factors coming into the game,” the D-backs’ Martin Prado said. “We know now that he can spot pitches. We have to make adjustments. That’s the main thing.”
Prado homered and Aaron Hill, playing for the first time since being hit by a pitch Tuesday, had an RBI double in a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning as the D-backs (7-4) chipped away against the Dodgers’ bullpen, but they could not quite complete the comeback from a 6-1 deficit after six innings.
Ryu (2-1) has 20 strikeouts and three walks in 18 2/3 innings this season. He won 98 games in seven seasons in the Korean league, averaging 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
“He was keeping guys off-balance. Everyone seemed to see him OK but just couldn’t get the barrel on the ball. Just kind of one of those funky left-handers,” said Hill, whose double off the left-field fence with two out in the eighth inning was about 3 feet short of being a game-tying home run, instead bringing in just one run to make it 6-5.
Adrian Gonzalez, who supported Ryu with three hits and two RBIs, has not been surprised by what he has seen out of Ryu this season.
“He did it in Korea, why couldn’t he do it here? When guys can keep their composure and keep executing pitches, it doesn’t matter where they’re pitching. It doesn’t matter what kind of hitters they’re facing — they’re going to get outs,” Gonzalez said.
Like Ryu, Gonzalez was a thorn in the D-backs’ side. His home run leading off the fourth inning off Ian Kennedy (1-1) broke a scoreless tie, and he singled in a run to cap a three-run sixth inning for a 6-1 lead. Gonzalez entered the game 2 for 16 against Kennedy in his career.
Matt Kemp also had a two-run single in sixth, when the Dodgers scored all three of their runs with two outs after Ryu singled to right field. Ryu had previously singled to center to start a two-run fifth.
Kennedy (1-1) was particularly hard on himself for the Dodgers’ two-out success.
“I was one pitch away from getting out of that last inning. That makes a difference between having a solid outing or just an OK one or a really bad one. Unacceptable when you are one pitch away. You have to make your pitches. I left too much plate to Kemp. Wasn’t executing. My fastball command wasn’t as good. It’s frustrating to think about.”
As for Ryu’s three hits, “that’s ridiculous,” Kennedy said. “They were some fastballs down. Didn’t expect that.”
Kennedy gave up 10 hits and walked four, one intentionally.