Ryu shines in relief debut, still wants to start

Ryu shines in relief debut, still wants to start

LOS ANGELES -- Hyun-Jin Ryu came out of the bullpen for the first time as a Major Leaguer Thursday night and made it look easy with a rare four-inning save in the Dodgers' 7-3 win over the Cardinals.

But a convenient long-term solution to the Dodgers' ongoing starting-pitching surplus? That's not in Ryu's plans.

"I'm a starter at heart," said Ryu, who had made 64 starts for the Dodgers before entering this game in the sixth inning. "I believe I will get another opportunity as a starter, and at one point that was part of the conversation. Today was just a one-time appearance, so I can't really say I'm good in this role or bad in this role. After today, we'll have to see."

Ryu, who won his last start May 18 against the Marlins, was bumped from the rotation to make room for Thursday night's starter, Kenta Maeda, who followed a three-run first inning with four scoreless. Ryu said club officials spoke with him "over quite a few days" to explain their decision and prepare him mentally and physical for his new assignment.

He said he was told on Thursday that he would be the back end of a duo with Maeda, manager Dave Roberts later saying the tandem could be "fairly lethal," although Roberts said Ryu could be asked to back up a different starter as well. The current rotation consists of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Hill and Maeda.

"It worked tonight, and I'd like to think the more he does it, the more he can kind of get comfortable with the role," Roberts said, praising Ryu's unselfishness for accepting the assignment. "Again, this is not something that we plan on being permanent. It's just to make sure we build his pitch count up and get him consistent innings and tonight it was a win for all of us."

Ryu didn't seem to share Roberts' enthusiasm about continued relief work, even though he allowed only two hits in the four scoreless innings.

"My initial reaction was I don't understand where the front office is coming from," Ryu said of the first conversation. "My record as a starter [2-5] wasn't as good as I wanted. For that reason, I felt if come out of the bullpen with a good performance, I'll probably get another shot at starting."

The four-out save was the first for a Dodger since Ramon Troncoso in 2009. Ryu is the first Dodger to record a save in his first relief appearance since Charlie Hough in 1970, and it was Ryu's first relief appearance since 2011 with the Hanwha Eagles in Korea.

Ryu was given ample warm up (two full innings) to ease the adjustment from starting, when Ryu generally uses 25 minutes for a routine that includes long tossing in the outfield before a 35-pitch warmup in the bullpen. Roberts said doctors were consulted because Ryu is coming off shoulder and elbow operations the previous two seasons.

"It was hard to time myself because I didn't know when I would be coming in," he said. "It was definitely more difficult. I knew I wasn't pitching one or two inning, it would be multiple innings, and I planned accordingly. I felt good about not giving up runs, I got the save, we won and they didn't have to pull me out of the game."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.