With Jeremy Lin fading during the latter half of the NBA season and a continuing dearth of Asian American standouts in pro sports, rookie Korean import pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu is shaping up to be the next Asian sports superstar in the US.
His latest exploit was pitching his first complete game in the majors with a two-hitter against the Anaheim Angels. It was more than the seven kills and zero walks for a 3-0 win to raise his season record to 6-2; it was the flair and ease with which he’s regularly turning in the best pitching performances of any rookie in the majors this season.
“It’s more of an artist for me, being able to throw both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” marveled Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. “It’s the art of pitching.
“He’s a superstar,” said Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp. “He kept some great hitters off-balance.”
The lefty did that by changing up his pitches to add more fastballs in the 93-mph range while continuing to work both sides of the plate in his usual fashion. He retired 19 consecutive pitchers for a sixth season win that puts him ahead of all rookie pitchers. Ryu’s also proving to be a real workhorse, with 71 2/3 innings pitched this season — the most among rookies.
“I didn’t think my first complete game would come this early in the season,” Ryu said through a translator. “I was just really comfortable. After the seventh when I realized my pitch count wasn’t that high I realized I could challenge myself [to finish the game].”
“When the fastball works, everything becomes more effective,” said Ryu.
He’s a bit of a maverick in his training routine. He got the Dodgers to agree to let him rest his arm between starts by not throwing any practice pitches as part of the $36-million, 6-year deal that made him the first Korean player to go directly into the majors.
“Mostly it’s to preserve the arm but the habit started in Korea when you’re used to throwing 125 pitches per game,” Ryu explained.
Ryu has extra dimensions to his athletic prowess that gives him that rare superstar potential. While most pitchers are known to be strong, sedentary workhorses, in Tuesday’s game Ryu actually outsprinted Alberto Callaspo to first base to secure the second out of the second inning. He followed that up in the third by slugging right-handed a one-hop double to deep right to spark the Dodgers’ with the team’s first hit.
Ryu, 26, played seven seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization’s (KBO) Hanhwa Eagles before coming to the US to join the Dodgers this season. He is 6-2 and weighs 255 pounds. His fastball has been clocked at 95mph.