Hyun-Jin Ryu signed with the Dodgers in December 2012 for six years and $36 million, following a sterling career with the Hanwha Eagles in South Korea. 2018 thus marked the last year of that contract.
Regular Season Recap
2018 was a season full of surprise stars for a Dodgers team that vacillated from the cellar to first to mediocrity seemingly within weeks of each other. Ross Stripling, Max Muncy and Matt Kemp were by far the most shocking, chiefly in the first half.
In all honesty, Ryu’s performance in 2018 was truly the greatest surprise of them all. It wouldn’t seem that way at first, starting with a 3-0 record and 2.12 ERA by the beginning of May. As hoped, he was pitching like he always did when healthy. No surprises there.
Of course, this is Hyun-Jin Ryu we’re talking about, and it was only a matter of time before injury struck. 2018 delivered a particularly brutal one on May 2, tearing a groin muscle in Arizona. He resided on the disabled list until mid-August, rejoining the rotation with a superb performance in a win against the Giants on August 15. From there, he stayed healthy and helped lock down the rotation, looking just as good as he did the first month.
His regular season totals came to a 7-3 record and a sterling 1.97 ERA. Given the severity of his injury, it was truly a miracle that he was even pitching at the end of 2018, let alone as incredibly as he did. Especially with Stripling’s subpar second half, this sudden return to form was a must for the final push to the postseason.
How’d He Do in October?
Ryu’s first postseason since 2014 was a mixed bag. Things started out on a resounding high note in the NLDS against Atlanta. In a somewhat controversial move, Ryu got the nod to start game one at Dodger Stadium instead of Clayton Kershaw. The rationale was nonetheless clear, as Ryu was not only looking like his old self, but also performed much better at home.
For all the rancor that the move was a slight towards Kershaw, Dave Roberts was overwhelmingly vindicated by it. Anyone watching the Dodgers for the first time on that night could have believed the lefty from Incheon was their actual #1. Over seven innings, Atlanta couldn’t muster a single run, and only four hits, as Ryu struck out eight in a tone-setting victory for the series.
The NLCS wasn’t quite as sterling for the Korean ace. Without home field advantage, his two starts were both in Milwaukee. He went 4.1 innings in game two, surrendering two runs while striking out four in a game the Dodgers rallied to win on Justin Turner’s go-ahead homer in the eighth.
Game six, however, was an unmitigated disaster. The Brewers offense, dormant for the past two games, held a de facto batting practice as Ryu lobbed one soft pitch after another. He mustered just three innings, in which he allowed five earned runs. Luckily, the Dodgers would win game seven the next day.
After not making the playoff roster in 2017, Ryu got to start game two of the 2018 World Series. The good news is it wasn’t quite as bad as game six in Milwaukee. The bad news was…it still wasn’t that good. He didn’t make it past the fifth inning, being charged with all four runs in a 4-2 loss. Of course, the two go-ahead runs in the fifth were allowed by Ryan Madson in his now-infamous “7-for-7” World Series.
What Lies Ahead
After accepting the team’s qualifying offer last month, Ryu is officially returning in 2019. As always, it’s simply a matter of health. Even with Los Angeles set to upgrade their rotation (likely by adding Corey Kluber), a fully healthy Ryu should be a lock for the fourth or fifth spot at season’s opening.
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