Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin throws in a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif. last month. / AP-Yonhap
By Baek Byung-yeul
When the lefthander made his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) debut in 2006, few could have guessed he would win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards. When he stated his desire to play in the majors, scoffs could be heard from the peanut gallery.Ryu Hyun-jin has a habit of exceeding expectations.
The Korean-born pitcher has continued to outstrip predictions since signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last winter, seeming to adjust well during spring training. The question now is how he will fare when the games matter.
The Korean will get his chance to answer in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening (Wednesday at KST), when the Dodgers take on NL West rival San Francisco Giants.
Ryu, 26, has done his part to spur expectations with a solid preseason performance. Over seven games, he went 2-2 with a 3.29 ERA, striking out 27 batters and scattering 10 runs over 27.1 innings. He couldn't have ended on a better note, striking out Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols.
Such performances have raised eyebrows around the league - in a survey of 43 ESPN analysts on who would win NL Rookie of Year, Ryu came in fourth.
He won't be alone in needing to prove himself as the Dodgers have gone all out in a bid to claim primacy in the division from the Giants, who have won two of the past three World Series titles.
To do so, they've plunked down a league-high $232 million to tie up ace Zack Greinke as well as pitcher Clayton Kershaw, center fielder Matt Kemp and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Ryu will have to show that he can consistently pitch deep into the game with a chance to win, to prove his worth.
He will face a San Francisco lineup similar to last year's that includes batting champ Buster Posey as well as the World Series MVP Pablo Sadoval.
He'll have a tough act to follow after an Opening Day gem from Kershaw, who led the 4-0 victory against the Giants with a complete-game shutout.
In typical fashion, Ryu seemed calm as he watched Kershaw mow down the opponents. "I will do my best," he said. "I am only focusing on winning the game."