LOS ANGELES -- Some of the best flamethrowers in the league were on the mound during the Dodgers-Mets series at Dodger Stadium, but the best starter this week has been the best starter this year, Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings on four hits in Thursday night’s 2-0 Dodgers win, utilizing a four-pitch mix that didn’t stress the radar gun, but produced a better game outcome than hard throwers Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Walker Buehler.
“It's like a left-handed Greg Maddux out there or something,” said Mets manager Mickey Callaway.
Ryu made 106 pitches, none anywhere near 100 mph. He said his changeup, which topped out around 82 mph, was better than it’s been all year.
“I could throw it for strikes and make them chase when I wanted to,” Ryu said. “Commanding my pitches gives me confidence.”
Maybe in an era when so many pitchers try so hard to throw so hard, the contrast might make an offspeed control master like Ryu even more effective.
“I think, with his stuff, he could survive in any era,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “It’s always a good thing to command the baseball and to use different pitches. But now when you talk about the ability to strike guys out, and the ability to put the ball on the ground -- now you’re talking about shifting and defensive metrics and putting guys in the right spots, layering on the tendencies of the hitter. Hyun-Jin’s balls in play are converted into outs more than any of our pitchers. Right now, as an outlier, with the defensive metrics, that gives him an even better opportunity.”
So, there you have it. With throwers all over the place, there’s still a place for a true pitcher like Ryu.
Will that place be the All-Star Game for the first time in his MLB career?
“We’re not there yet,” said Roberts, the manager of the National League team. “But he’s a clear front-runner.”
Ryu said it’s too early for that conversation. But he’s 8-1 with a 1.48 ERA. He leads the National League in wins and the Majors in ERA. He hasn’t allowed a home run in 48 2/3 innings. Although he actually issued his fifth walk of the season, no Met advanced past second base. His ERA in May, while he’s gone 5-0, is 0.59. It’s the lowest ERA in a month for a Dodgers starter since Clayton Kershaw’s 0.27 in July 2015.
“This month of May is incredible,” Ryu said. “I’ve always told everyone I want to throw six, seven innings to put the team in a position to help the team win, but I haven’t always been able to do it. But this month of May I definitely was able to do it, and it’s unbelievable.”
At a time when starting pitchers are prouder of their velocity than stamina, Ryu is a throwback. He has pitched more than seven innings in four of his last six starts. Those innings are needed by a bullpen that can use any break it gets. He went deep enough to get the ball to Kenley Jansen with no middlemen needed. Jansen got the last four outs for his 16th save.
Listen to Callaway, who played in Korea when Ryu broke in there.
“He mixes it up better than I've seen in a long time,” said Callaway. “There's no pattern whatsoever. He drives his arm through every pitch and sells everything, whether it's a changeup, curveball, he gets through it. He's using his fastball at the top of the zone at the right time. It's just kind of really a lesson in pitching to everybody sitting there watching. He pitched a heck of a game.
"I saw him when he was 19 win an MVP in Korea when I was playing there, and he was unbelievable then. This kid knows how to pitch. The last couple years, he's one of the ERA leaders in the league. He's doing a heck of a job."