On Tuesday, just moments after we began a pessimistic discussion about the state of the Dodgers prospective rotation, lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu took the bump against the Brewers and fired four solid innings of one-hit, shutout ball, making a clear argument for himself to be considered among the starting pitching crew when Opening Day rolls around on April 3.
This is fantastic news for Ryu, who fell off the radar the past two seasons due to his problematic shoulder. After missing all of 2015 recovering from surgery, he was initially scheduled to return during 2016 spring camp, but his shoulder never mended properly. Following numerous unsuccessful throwing programs, he finally began to throw hard late last summer and surprisingly made a big league start against the Padres on July 7, when he surrendered six runs on eight hits and two walks in 4-2/3 innings pitched.
Elbow soreness not long after his return to the mound ultimately led to an arthroscopic debridement procedure, which would eventually shut him down for the remainder of the 2016 season.
Notwithstanding, during 2017 Cactus League play, the 29-year-old native of South Korea has thrown nine full innings over three appearances, surrendering only five hits and one earned run while striking out a total of eight opposing batters. Many pundits believe that if Ryu remains healthy over the next 10 days, he’s a lock to secure a starting rotation spot, supplanting fellow southpaw Alex Wood, who could be destined for Triple-A Oklahoma City to remain on call in case of a big league injury.
At the beginning of spring training in 2016, Wood was right on the fringe of the starting rotation, often being discussed as the headliner at OKC, up until the point it was deemed that Ryu would remain on the shelf, and when team officials announced that Brett Anderson required surgery on his back to repair a damaged disc. Starting the 2016 season as the Dodgers’ No. 4 starter, Wood would go on to make 10 mediocre starts through May, before he was forced to the disabled list to rest his elbow for a month because of an apparent posterior impingement. Ultimately, he underwent an arthroscopic debridement procedure on his elbow and missed an additional eight weeks. Although it appeared as if his season was finished, the 26-year-old Charlotte native persevered through rehab and went on to make four impressive relief appearances of shutout ball down the stretch of the regular season, eventually earning a spot on the NLCS roster against the Cubs in October.
If he’s 100 percent healthy and his mechanics are in tune, there’s no question that he’s among the best five in the Dodgers’ organization. However, injuries have been Wood’s downfall in his two years with Los Angeles after he made an impressive 30 or more starts during his first three years with the Braves.
So far this spring, Wood appears to be in good health, having pitched in a total of four contests, two of which were starts. Over 11-1/3 innings, he has surrendered four earned runs on nine hits, alongside two walks and 11 strikeouts.
If Ryu stays on his current pace and indeed earns a spot in the Dodgers’ starting five, it seemingly vaults Wood into a competition with veteran righty Brandon McCarthy for the final spot in the rotation. McCarthy has also had his own fare share of struggles in his quest of battling back from Tommy John surgery in 2015.
Yet because Wood has plenty of options remaining on his contract, he may be the odd man out. Since he has already proven himself to throw effectively in relief, though, Wood could be an option in the bullpen, especially if the Dodgers decide to begin the season with an eight-man relief corps. But keeping in mind the injury pedigrees of Rich Hill, Ryu and McCarthy, it may make more sense to have Wood stretched out as a starter, waiting for the phone to ring at Oklahoma City when a need arises on the big league roster.
As far as controlling his own destiny, it probably matters little. Just where exactly he fits into the Dodgers’ puzzle probably depends only slightly on how well he throws through the remainder of the spring, but more importantly, how the pitching staff shapes up as a whole on the injury front over the next 10 days.
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