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Ryu’s fastball indicates speedy return to mound

Mar 25,2016
When will Ryu Hyun-jin of Los Angeles Dodgers return to the mound?

Although it is unclear when he will return to his previous Major League Baseball form, one thing is for certain; Ryu is slowly climbing back from the injury to his left arm that has haunted him for almost a year.

Rye seems to be at a crucial point in his recovery. Recently he is believed to have thrown a fastball at 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour), which is only 10 kilometers an hour behind his peak throwing speed of 150 kilometers per hour.

Ryu threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday at Camelback Ranch in Arizona with the Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt closely observing.

According to social media reports from Dodgers reporter for MLB.com Ken Gurnick, balls Ryu threw in Wednesday’s bullpen session were his “best velocity since shoulder surgery.”

Although it is unclear how fast Ryu’s pitch actually travelled because it wasn’t officially announced, considering his ball reached 135 kilometers per hour at a bullpen session on February 23, Ryu’s pitch on Wednesday may have topped 140 kilometers per hour.

Since surgery on his shoulder in May 2015, Ryu has been steady and careful in his rehab. He began light catch-up practice four months after the operation and underwent a recovery program in which a pitcher slowly increases the throwing distance.

Ryu threw his first bullpen session in January this year. However, when his pain started again in February 27, Ryu stopped pitching for two weeks and had to repeat the rehab process.

Given Ryu’s current condition, it is unlikely he will pitch in the opening game in April.

Kim Jin-seop, the orthopedic surgeon who operated on Ryu’s left elbow in 2004 said, “It is only natural for a pitcher who just had a shoulder operation to feel pain. I saw the MRI scan after his surgery.

“Initially, they were just going to clean out the inflammation on his shoulder. However, when they opened it up, they discovered torn labrum and had to repair the injury. This is why the rehab takes longer than originally anticipated.”

Labrum is a fibrocartilage affixed to the shoulder socket to keep the ball of the joint in place. It is also the part that pitchers frequently injure.

According to Kim, depending on the severity of the tear, extensive physical therapy is sufficient enough to treat the injury for some players. However, for some pitchers, going from surgery to recovery could take as long as three years. “Right now is a crucial phase for Ryu,” said Kim. “At this pace, it should not be a problem for him to return sometime this season.”

After a few bullpen sessions, Ryu should be ready to throw in a live pitching session against batters, albeit lightly. From then, it shouldn’t take long before he can throw in a game. However, if he feels pain again, that could delay Ryu’s return.

“Rehab can often be tedious,” said Ryu, implying how mentally draining the process is for Ryu. However, Ryu knows that he must follow through on all the necessary steps.

When retired Dodgers pitcher Park Chan-ho, one of the first Korean pitchers to play and succeed in the MLB, visited Camelback Ranch last week, he emphasized that Ryu should not rush his recovery.

Lee Sang-hoon, the director of CM hospital, also a designated medical expert for KIA Tigers and NC Dinos, said, “Ryu is handling the rehab process well. We should be able to see him throw in a game by June. But, there are some cases where repeated pain eventually leads to a worse condition.”

“Pain might not completely subside,” said Lee. “The best situation at this point is for Ryu to regain the condition he was in before the surgery when the pain was so miniscule that he was able to pitch through pain, not complete recovery.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]


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