The Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball’s prestigious Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim meant business when they welcomed the “메이저놀이터 Korean Monster” Ryu Hyun-jin (36, Toronto Blue Jays). The home fans welcomed their former player back to their stadium after a four-year absence.
Hyun-jin Ryu reunited with his former teammates before Toronto’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, USA, on June 26.
Manager Dave Roberts, Clayton Kershaw, Austin Barnes, Max Muncy, and the rest of the LA Dodgers team were all smiles and chatted with Ryu. According to a video released by the Toronto club on its official social media, managers, players, and other officials welcomed their former teammate. The Toronto team posted a message in Korean that read, “Meeting with old teammates,” followed by “RYUNITED (a combination of Ryu Hyun-jin + UNITED), (Ryu Hyun-jin) has returned to the place where it all began. Everyone loves Ryu Hyun-jin,” highlighting the reunion.
The LA Dodgers and Ryu have always been special to each other. Ryu made his professional debut with the Hanwha Eagles in 2006 and joined the Dodgers through the posting system. With Korean pitchers virtually unheard of after Park Chan-ho and Byung-hyun Kim, Ryu went on to go 54-33 with a 2.98 ERA in 126 games and 665 strikeouts in 740⅓ innings over seven seasons with the Dodgers.
It wasn’t without its ups and downs. After posting back-to-back 14-win seasons and a sub-3 ERA after his big league debut in 2013, Ryu had surgery on his left shoulder’s labrum in 2015, effectively sidelining him for two years (he appeared in one game in 2016). To this day, it’s still considered a devastating injury, and even if he returns, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to perform at the same level. However, after posting a 1.97 ERA in 15 games in 2018, Ryu burst onto the scene in 2019, going 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA and finishing second in the National League Cy Young Award. As a result, he signed a massive four-year, $80 million free agent contract after the season. At the time, it was the most expensive ace in Toronto’s franchise history.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were also at their peak during Ryu’s tenure. From 2013, when Ryu joined the team, to 2019, when he left, they won the National League West seven years in a row, had two 100-win seasons and a World Series runner-up finish, so the special treatment was well-deserved. “The Los Angeles Dodgers are playing a tribute video to Hyun-jin Ryu, who is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery,” Fabian Ardaya, who covers the Dodgers for US outlet Athletic, wrote on social media.
Now in the twilight of his career, Hyun-jin Ryu is facing another tough challenge. In 2020, his first year in Toronto, Ryu was an ace, going 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 12 games and finishing third in the American League Cy Young Award. In 2021, he won double-digit games for the fourth time in his major league career, but his performance gradually declined, and in June of last year, he underwent his second elbow ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) and spent nearly a year rehabbing.
Despite his age and second surgery, he was close to returning in July. He lost about 30 pounds, according to Toronto manager John Schneider, and in four rehab appearances, he posted a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings. In his most recent outing, on April 22 against the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, the Syracuse Mets, he went six innings and touched 90.8 mph (146.1 km/h).
Now, it’s up to Schneider and the coaching staff to make the final decision on his return. Initially, he was scheduled to return for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels this weekend (May 29-31), but talk of a simulated game appearance surfaced the day before (May 25).
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Canadian outlet Sportsnet said, “Ryu is likely to pitch in a simulated game before entering the rotation,” but that “the possibility of a start against the Angels hasn’t been completely eliminated.” According to MLB.com, the trip to Dodger Stadium is also a way for the team to get a first-hand look at Ryu’s physical condition, so he will likely throw out of the bullpen in the three-game series.
If all goes well, he could face off against Shohei Ohtani, 29, for the first time in a year. Ryu and Otani faced off in a start on May 27 last year. Ryu picked up the win with five innings of six-hit ball, one walk and two runs, while Oh took the loss with six innings of six-hit ball, one walk, 10 strikeouts and five runs. If he doesn’t get the start, he’ll be back in action early next month for a four-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Meanwhile, Toronto gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to the Los Angeles Dodgers to break a 7-7 tie and lost 7-8 in extra innings on James Outman’s game-tying RBI double with the bases loaded.