Dodgers’ Ryu looking forward to big league debut

Hyun-Jin Ryu is following in the footsteps of former major

league pitcher Chan Ho Park, who inspired him and countless other

South Korean kids who dreamed about getting to the big leagues.

Ryu is slated to make his official debut Tuesday on the same

mound Park threw his first pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers back

in 1994.

Park spent 17 seasons in the majors before retiring at the end

of the 2010 campaign with a 124-98 record, 4.36 ERA and 1,715

strikeouts. He spent his first eight big league campaigns with Los

Angeles, making his official debut with a mop-up ninth inning in

Kent Mercker’s no-hitter for the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium,

and once gave up two grand slams in one inning by the St. Louis

Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis.

Now it’s Ryu’s turn to be the darling of the large Korean

population in Southern California – without the grand slams.

”I followed his career a pretty good deal,” Ryu said through a

translator on Friday before an exhibition game against the Angels.

”I was only in grade school when Chan Ho was pitching, but I do

remember waking up in the early mornings just to catch some of the

games. He is definitely a role model for me and as lot of my peers

in baseball who are a similar age. All of us started playing

baseball because we were inspired by Chan Ho Park back in the

day.”

The 25-year-old left-hander had a solid spring training, going

2-2 with a 3.29 ERA in six starts and one relief outing. He retired

all 12 batters he faced Thursday night at Angel Stadium, combining

with six relievers on a two-hitter. Last Saturday, he held the

Chicago White Sox to one hit over seven innings in a 10-4 victory

while retiring 17 of his last 18 batters.

”He’s kind of been as advertised to this point,” manager Don

Mattingly said. ”He’s been pretty good and he’s had a really nice

spring. He pitches quick and does everything you want him to do. So

as we keep moving forward, I think everybody’s pretty confident

this guy knows what he’s doing and he’s ready to go.”

Ryu agreed to a $36 million, six-year contract with the Dodgers

after they bid $25.7 million to win exclusive rights to negotiate

with him. He will become the first player to go directly from the

Korean league to the major leagues when he makes his big league

debut next week against the World Series champion San Francisco

Giants.

”He’s very poised, very confident, and obviously he’s got good

stuff,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. ”Each outing

seems to be sharper and sharper, which is what you want going into

the season. His last three or four outings can’t be much sharper

than what it’s been. His fastball command has been there, and the

velocity is starting to creep up with it, so it’s a good

combination. His breaking stuff is definitely improving, and the

changeup is also there, so that’s got to be in the back of your

mind, too.”

Even though he got his first look at Dodger Stadium as a member

of the team on Thursday, Ryu is no stranger to Chavez Ravine.

”I remember back in 2009 when I came to this stadium to play

two games in the WBC, and I was just a guest of this ballpark,” he

said. ”But to come back here and call this my home field, it’s an

honor and it feels really good seeing the facility and how great it

is, and how it just makes it easier for me to play good

baseball.

”I’ve already felt a lot of support from the local

Korean-Americans here, and I think it’s now on me to go out there

and perform on the baseball field,” he added. ”I’m definitely

more confident before the start of the season than the first time I

came to camp. My body and my physicality is to the point I’m

comfortable with.”