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Ryu insists he's healthy heading into Game 3 start

Dodgers rookie's Friday bullpen session with team surgeon raises questions

ATLANTA -- Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu insists that he is ready for his first Major League postseason start on Sunday, despite some ongoing questions surrounding his health.

Ryu on Friday tossed a bullpen session prior to the Dodgers' Game 2 National League Division Series loss in Atlanta. The cause for alarm didn't necessarily stem from the session itself -- after all, Ryu has had an extended layoff between starts -- but instead from the fact that it came under the watchful eye of team surgeon Neal ElAttrache, medical director Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly.

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Nevertheless, Ryu said he completed his bullpen work with zero discomfort and has no hesitations about taking the ball in Sunday's pivotal Game 3 of the NLDS at 5 p.m. PT on TBS, opposite Julio Teheran and the Braves.

"Actually, I feel really good right now. My goal is just to get my body ready to be able to go out there and win, and take the lead of the series," Ryu said on Saturday. "Typically, when I rest longer than normal, I always squeeze in a bullpen in there just to make sure that my body is responding the way I want it to."

Tale of the Tape: Game 3
2013 regular season
Overall: 30 GS, 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 49 BB, 154 K Overall: 30 GS, 14-8, 3.20 ERA, 45 BB, 170 K
Key stat: Opponents hitting .067 with bases loaded Key stat: 2.97 ERA in the second half
At Dodger Stadium
2013: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.32 ERA
Career: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.32 ERA
2013: Did not pitch
Career: Did not pitch
Against this opponent
2013: 2 GS, 0-0, 2.13 ERA
Career: 2 GS, 0-0, 2.13 ERA
2013: Did not pitch
Career: Did not pitch
Loves to face: Jason Heyward, 1-for-7, 3 K
Hates to face: Freddie Freeman, 3-for-4
Loves to face: Michael Young 0-for-3, 1 K
Hates to face: Only faced two Dodgers
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Rises to the occasion on big stage Why he'll win: Has a lively fastball with good command
Pitcher beware: Has not pitched in postseason Pitcher beware: Inexperienced in October
Bottom line: Change speeds and attack the strike zone Bottom line: Build on strong second half, don't get rattled on the road

Mattingly backed his starter, saying the team has "no concerns" about Ryu or his status for Sunday's game. As of Saturday night, Mattingly said the Dodgers' scheduled rotation remains unchanged, with Ricky Nolasco slated to pitch Game 4 on Monday and ace Clayton Kershaw ready for a potential Game 5 in Atlanta on Wednesday.

For now, however, the focus remains on Game 3 and the man the Dodgers signed to a six-year, $36 million deal this offseason.

"I'm really excited to see what he's going to do on Sunday, because he is a big-game pitcher who has got so many different weapons, so many different ways to get you out," said Ryu's batterymate, A.J. Ellis. "He's been a joy to catch all year."

Though technically a rookie, Ryu was a seven-time all-star in the Korea Baseball Organization before signing with the Dodgers last December. Ryu finished his first year in the Majors with a 14-8 regular-season record to go along with a 3.00 ERA over 30 starts.

Considering Ryu's experience in South Korea, Mattingly isn't too concerned about sending the "rookie" to the mound on Sunday for Los Angeles' first home postseason game since 2009.

"Hyun-Jin is a guy that's a rookie, but has really pitched a lot of baseball professionally, just not here," Mattingly said. "So he's an older-type rookie. I'm hoping he'll react good. You don't know how anybody is going to react, but I feel like [all our rookies] will react good, and I look forward to watching it."

Sunday's game will also mark another first, as Ryu will become the first South Korean pitcher to ever start a Major League postseason game. Countrymen Chan Ho Park and Byung-Hyun Kim have combined to make 21 postseason appearances, but neither has ever started a game.

"It's a huge motivation to know that an entire country's going to be watching the game," Ryu said. "But equally important is the fans here at Dodger Stadium and the Korean community here. I understand there are going to be a lot of them coming out [Sunday], but it's a big encouragement for me."

Along with dominating the KBO, Ryu also has some big-game experience. The 26-year-old southpaw earned the win in Korea's gold medal-clinching victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and went 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA for the second-place South Korean squad at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

"This is definitely not going to be the biggest game he's ever pitched, which is a nice thing to be able to say about him," Ellis said. "This is a guy who's basically the Clayton Kershaw of his country -- best pitcher there for years. He's a guy who's pitched in WBCs and Olympics, so he's pitched on a big stage before."

Ryu coasted for much of the season, posting a 12-3 record and 2.91 ERA through his first 23 Major League starts. Over his final seven starts, however, he went just 2-5 -- despite still putting up a respectable 3.30 ERA during that span -- while also dealing with a back ailment that forced him to miss a start in early September.

Insisting he is fully healthy, Ryu emphasized on Saturday that he is indeed ready to embrace his first big league postseason experience. As for his manager, Mattingly fully expects Ryu to channel his past success on the international level into a masterful Game 3 performance.

"Some of the scouts that we talked to [before signing him] seemed to think that all the WBC games he's pitched and things like that, that's when his best outings have come against the best teams," Mattingly said. "So, we feel like he'll step up."

To this point, Ryu has seemingly risen to every other challenge in his debut season in the Majors. He wasted no time adapting to the new culture and his new team in Spring Training, and has even made strides to improve his English throughout the summer.

Following Ryu's first start in Dodger blue, Ellis indicated that he was trying to pick up on some Korean to improve communication between the two. Though Ellis hasn't exactly lived up to his own expectations -- admittedly knowing "probably even less" Korean now than he did back then -- Ryu has come a long way with his English.

"To his credit, he's picked up a ton of English. We talk baseball a lot," Ellis said. "He's such a smart, intuitive guy who has a great feel for the game of baseball. Baseball is a universal international language in itself. When he takes the mound, it's my Dodger teammate, it's not anything else. We've really grown together, him and I, by working together."

Along with having a universal language, baseball also has a universal way to measure success -- winning.

"He's a guy who's all about us, all about winning," Ellis said. "So I think he's going to be great."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Hyun-Jin Ryu