ST. LOUIS — For all the hype about Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, neither is the Dodgers starter who has most stymied the Cardinals.
That would be Hyun-Jin Ryu, the 27-year-old South Korean who is scheduled to start at Busch Stadium on Monday at 8:07 p.m. (not 8:37 as previously announced).
Not many pitchers on any team have given St. Louis more trouble. Over the past two seasons, Ryu’s 1.29 ERA against the Cardinals has been bettered by only Tony Watson (0.00), Jake Arrieta (0.92) and Bartolo Colon (1.17). Ryu is one of those nasty left-handers with a four-pitch arsenal who so often seem to baffle the Birds.
Under normal circumstances, that is. But the circumstances will not be normal for Ryu when he starts Game 3 in a National League Division Series that’s tied at 1.
Because of left shoulder soreness, Ryu has pitched only one inning in the past month and it wasn’t pretty. He gave up five hits, walked one and allowed four runs at San Francisco 24 days ago. Ryu already had spent more than half of August on the disabled list because of a right hip injury and earlier missed most of May because of left shoulder inflammation.
Though the Dodgers still chose him instead of Dan Haren for Game 3, manager Don Mattingly says Haren will be prepared to pitch if Ryu’s start is cut short.
"He’s not going to go out and throw (before the game) and do long toss and all of that," Mattingly explained Sunday at a presser. "Mentally, he’s going to be ready to pitch."
If Ryu can get through five or so innings, Mattingly said Haren will be saved for Game 4. But if Ryu has anything like a repeat of his performance against the Giants, Haren will be summoned.
Such uncertainty is not the ideal way to enter the most important game of the season, but the Dodgers believe Ryu is ready. He has thrown plenty in the bullpen and even pitched a simulated game last week.
"It’s not like we’re just throwing him out there," Mattingly said. "But HyunâJin is a guy that we trust and he’s been unflappable from the standpoint of anything that comes along, he just seems to handle."
Said Ryu: "I feel very confident right now. My shoulder feels really strong. And I have a pretty good feeling I’ll be able to put in a good game."
Mattingly has reason to believe, too. Even with Ryu’s injuries, he put up some strong numbers in 2014, finishing 14-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 152 innings covering 26 starts. He lost his lone start to the Cardinals, 3-1, allowing a bases-empty homer to Yadier Molina and a game-deciding, two-run double to Jhonny Peralta.
If Haren has to go in Game 3, Kershaw is likely to pushed up to start Game 4 on three days’ rest. Kershaw worked on short rest in the NLDS last year and went six innings, allowing two unearned runs.
Three other keys to Game 3:
— Who’s on second? If Pete Kozma had done something offensively in Game 1, he could have given manager Mike Matheny an easy decision on whom to start in Game 3. But Kozma did not get the ball out of the infield in three at-bats. Lefty-hitting Kolten Wong doubled for one of the Cardinals’ five hits in Game 2 but also made a misplay in the field. The edge could go to Wong because he hit .315 against left-handers.
— What will Yasiel Puig do? He struck out in all four at-bats in Game 2, and his frustration was obvious from his first at-bat on. Can he regain the focus he showed in Game 1, when he reached base four times and scored three runs? You can be sure that Cardinals starter John Lackey will not be reluctant to work inside against Puig, who on Saturday night did not look like the type of player who elevates his game when he loses his cool.
— Can Carpenter be cooled? With two homers and two doubles, Matt Carpenter has found his power stroke against the Dodgers. His production has gone a long way to cover up for an offense that has been held to eight hits over the first two games minus its seven-hit seventh inning in Game 1. When Carpenter is locked in like this, he is difficult to slow because he rarely swings at pitches outside the zone, and inside the zone his swing has no holes.
"There’s not many people with the strike zone awareness he has, with the ability to find the barrel of the bat and fight off tough pitches like Matt can do," Matheny said.