Long before the 2018 starting rotation picture began to sort itself out, many folks close to the Dodgers believed that Hyun-Jin Ryu was embarking upon a potentially career-best season, just in time for him to successfully test the free agent market during the coming winter months. Through the end of April of this year, the 31-year-old southpaw had posted a 3-0 record with a 2.12 ERA, a 0.867 WHIP and an outrageous 10.9 K/9, at least by his own standards. Before the emergence of Ross Stripling, and with staff ace Clayton Kershaw fighting off several different ailments, Ryu was leading the charge of the entire Los Angeles pitching staff.
However, as fate would have it, he suffered a serious left groin injury to the point where muscle was nearly torn completely off his bone. Upon hearing the initial diagnosis, many believed his chances of returning later in the season were slim to none. Nevertheless, he was eventually moved to the 60-day DL and the earliest guesstimates gave him a chance of returning sometime after the 2018 All-Star break.
Ryu would work hard and persevere, finally building himself up to the point where he was ready for rehab work. Last Friday, he made a start at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, where he threw four scoreless innings, proving that his return to the bigs this year was becoming close to a reality. Then, after shifting venues from Double-A Tulsa to Triple-A Oklahoma City at the last minute, he started the game at Reno on Tuesday evening, where he tossed 71 pitches and completed five full innings, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out three opposing batters.
Conceivably, after logging those five full innings, his return to the bigs could happen with his next appearance; however, one would think that he may be scheduled for another minor league outing just to be on the safe side. Lefty Alex Wood was recently placed on the 10-day DL with groin problems, but the club plans to move Stripling back into the rotation to fill the temporary void. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if a few other members of the staff spend quick stints on the disabled list sometime soon for resting purposes, allowing Ryu to move into the rotation, at least temporarily.
The Dodgers bullpen, which theoretically needs a little help during its current restructuring phase, could probably use the services of Ryu; but in the past, the lefty has had problems with such a role, mainly because of the extensive amount of time it takes him to get loose and warm up in a relief capacity.
If he does see a bit of starting action and perform well enough down the stretch run, though, it could boost his free agent value during the offseason. It remains to be seen if the Dodgers will offer the lefty any type of deal, but the chances could be slim based on the amount of controllable starting rotation depth in the Los Angeles system right now.
Regardless, if he’s somehow able to rediscover the groove he was in during the early portion of 2018, there could be at least a small possibilty that Ryu cements himself into the rotation for the remainder of the year.