Ryu Hyun-jin emerges as consistent starter in first half of MLB rookie season

SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- Despite his shaky outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, Korean time, South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers ended the first half of his rookie Major League Baseball (MLB) season as one of the team's most consistent starters.

The 26-year-old left-hander was charged with five earned runs on seven hits and two walks in five innings against Arizona. The five earned runs tied Ryu's season high.

Ryu left the game with the Dodgers trailing 5-4, but A.J. Ellis drove in the tying run with a single in the top of the ninth inning to let Ryu off the hook. The Dodgers won the game 7-5 in 14 innings, thanks to back-to-back solo shots by Hanley Ramirez and Ellis in the top 14th.

Before this game, the big league rookie had thrown eight straight quality starts -- at least six innings pitched while giving up three or fewer earned runs -- dating back to May 22.

Ryu will head into the All-Star break with a 7-3 record and a 3.09 ERA. He has struck out 93 batters and walked 39 in 116 2/3 innings. The All-Star Game is set for next Tuesday at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, and the MLB teams will be off from Monday to next Thursday.

Ryu is tied with former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke for the second most victories on the Dodgers, one behind another ex-Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw.

In the first half, Ryu made 18 starts, 14 of which were quality starts. He failed to pitch at least six innings only twice the whole season, and has thrown one complete game shutout, coming against the Los Angeles Angels on May 28.

After his no-decision against the Diamondbacks, Ryu said he had acquitted himself pretty well in the first half.

"I didn't have any injuries and was fairly consistent," he said. "I am most pleased with having pitched five, six innings in every start consistently. I am going to try to be better in the second half."

Ryu said he will have to stop giving up runs early in the game. Against Arizona, he allowed a first inning solo home run to Aaron Hill.

Asked whether he was exhausted or hurt, Ryu said he simply didn't pitch well.

"I didn't feel particularly bad out there. I just did something that a starting pitcher should never do," he said. "After our team went ahead, I let the other guys take the lead again."

Ryu spent the previous seven seasons with the Hanwha Eagles in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). The Eagles then agreed to post him for a silent auction in the MLB, and the Dodgers won the bid to negotiate with the pitcher.

Ryu in December signed a six-year, US$36 million contract with LA. Ryu, who had been one of the KBO's most dominant starting pitchers, is the first South Korean player to jump directly from the South Korean league to the majors.

He looked unsettled in his major league debut against the San Francisco Giants on April 2. Ryu gave up 10 hits, all of them singles, and one earned run in 6 1/3 innings to take the loss.

The lefty found his groove and won his next two starts. Then on April 30 against the Colorado Rockies, Ryu struck out a season-high 12 batters, with a mixed bag of fastballs, curves, sliders and changeups.

He has relied on his four-pitch repertoire for most of the season. In April, Ryu struck out more than a batter per inning, but he has since been getting opponents out on contact. Since the beginning of May, his strikeout ratio has decreased, but he has been no less effective.

Ryu's win over the Giants on July 5 came in large part thanks to that adjustment to his approach. Ryu had faced the Giants three times before that game and had been 0-2 against the National League (NL) West rivals, giving up 26 hits in 19 innings.

In the fourth meeting against the Giants, Ryu gave up just four hits and two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. He only struck out three, but he didn't need to overpower hitters, as he consistently threw them off their rhythm with an array of fastball and breaking pitches. Hunter Pence, the Giants' slugger who had been 6-for-8 with four RBIs against Ryu this season, was 0-for-3 with a strikeout on July 6.

Ryu, who bats right-handed, has also made some contributions at the plate. He even enjoyed a three-hit game against the Diamondbacks in April and is batting .222 in 36 at-bats with four RBIs.

The unflappable pitcher has also been applauded for poise and unhurried demeanor. Vin Scully, the long-time broadcaster for the Dodgers, has often compared the South Korean with former Dodger All-Star Fernando Valenzuela. The NL Cy Young Award winner at age 20 in 1981, Valenzuela was also famous for exuding a cool, calm and collected presence on the mound.

Kim In-sik, Ryu's former manager with the Eagles in the KBO, said Thursday his prized pupil is pitching better than he'd expected and added that Ryu's win-loss record would be better had he received more run support.

Ryu still has room for improvement, Kim said.

"In the second half, he needs to have better command and try to work the corners," Kim said. "He also needs to throw sharper breaking pitches."

Kim, who said he watched Ryu struggle against the Diamondbacks on television, opined that the pitcher looked fatigued but should be able to recover after getting some rest during the All-Star break.

"When the Dodgers were missing key players to injuries, Ryu stood his ground and did his job on the mound," Kim said. "Some of those injured players have come back, and Ryu should be able to perform better in the second half and add to his win total."

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