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.”