LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers have every confidence that Hyun-Jin Ryu will walk to the mound Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium and pitch with the same calm and confidence he did all season.
But there might also be a little concern, if only because of a bullpen session Ryu had earlier this week in front of the watchful eyes of the team doctor, the head of their medical services staff and manager Don Mattingly.
“We have no concerns about him,” Mattingly said Saturday on the eve of Game 3 against the Atlanta Braves in their best-of-five National League Division Series. “He’s starting tomorrow.”
Pitchers don’t typically throw in front of the team doctor, and Ryu rarely threw between starts this season. It’s a routine he brought with him from Korea, and the Dodgers, who like most teams prefer their starters have a bullpen session two days after a start, allowed him to keep it.
But Ryu was also seen wearing a compression sleeve on his left arm during a recent workout, so it gave rise to questions Saturday. He told MLB.com the sleeve was to “keep my arm loose.”
If there are worries, it might be the reason the Dodgers put left-handed starter Chris Capuano on their 25-man roster for the first round. Capuano would be considered a long relief man, but he could also be an emergency starter in case Ryu is unable to pitch or is knocked out early.
Ryu’s explanation for the bullpen session was that he’s pitching with six days off between starts. Since he made his last regular-season start last Sunday, he wanted the extra work.
“Typically, when I rest longer than normal, I always squeeze in a bullpen just to make sure that my body is responding the way I want it to,” he said through a translator.
So why were team doctor Neal ElAttrache and medical services director Stan Conte also there?
“Stan’s pretty much always watching him,” Mattingly said. “And I think Neal just loves being in the bullpen in Atlanta. It’s nice and cool down there.”
OK, that explanation will have to do. The Dodgers know that if he’s on, Ryu can be tough to hit with his array of pitches. Despite pitching the past seven seasons in the Korean professional league, he blended in seamlessly with the Dodgers, winning 14 games with a 3.00 ERA and throwing six or more innings in 24 of 30 starts.
But pitching on a big stage? No big deal.
“He’s representing the Dodgers here,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “Over there, he’s representing his entire country. He’s dominated in the Olympics and he’s dominated in the World Baseball Classic for his country, so this is definitely not the biggest game he’s ever pitched.”
Maybe not, but it’s still very important. Ryu, 26, acknowledged as much Saturday when he was asked about the importance of the game in Korea, where many of his countrymen will be watching on TV.
“It’s a huge motivation to know that an entire country’s going to be watching the game,” he said. “But equally important is the fans at Dodger Stadium and the Korean community here. I understand there are going to be a lot of them coming out, so it’s a big encouragement for me.”
All the Dodgers can hope is that he’s healthy and ready to pitch.