Two starts into the 2014 season and left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu looks like he may be making the leap from dependable rookie starter to sophomore superstar for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ryu has yet to allow a run over two starts and would be 2-0 if Brian Wilson had not given up the lead in Sunday’s game. His success last season had a profound impact on his stardom in his home country.
According to Mark Saxon of ESPN LA, the 27-year-old saw a big difference in his popularity when he returned to South Korea after the 2013 season:
I think the difference is, before I left, I was recognized by baseball fans, Ryu said. Now, I’m recognized by everyone, whether they like baseball or not, from kids to their grandparents.
Before heading to the big leagues, Ryu was a seven-time All-Star in seven season in Korean’s Baseball Organization with the Hanwha Eagles. He became the first player to make the jump from the KBO to the major leagues and may have paved a way for future Korean pitchers. The Dodgers outbid all other teams for the rights to sign the left-hander and gave him a six-year, $36 million deal. In his first season, Ryu went 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA and would become the first Korean pitcher to start a postseason game. He finished fourth in the National League’s Rookie of the Year vote.
Over the off-season, the 27-year-old was seen in a variety of commercials and music videos, lending his talents to a few Korean pop songs. Another strong season by Ryu could catapult him into stardom in Los Angeles, as well as his native country. He will be a key piece in the Dodgers’ attempt to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988 and helping them reach that point would attract a lot of new fans.