Dodger Ryu Hyun-jin restarts road back

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Dodger Ryu Hyun-jin restarts road back

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When will Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers return to the big league mound? No one, not even those at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, seems to have the exact answer to this question. The only thing for certain at this moment is that Ryu has retreated in his rehab process and has gone back to throw for a Single-A minors team.

After about three weeks of pause, Ryu was spotted during a Single-A minors game between Dodgers affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and San Diego Padres affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm at Lake Elsinore, California on Monday. Ryu tossed for three innings and pitched 46 balls while pocketing 35 strikes during the Quakes’ 5-2 win over the Storm.

In the first inning of his first rehab assignment in three weeks, Ryu quickly retired three batters to conclude the inning without yielding any runs.

But, his second inning during his rehab outing was more distressing than the first one. Ryu allowed a double to Franmil Reyes of the Storm, who rounded the bases in the next two plays to eventually drive home to score. After conceding his first run, Ryu gave out another run when Felipe Blanco hit a RBI single, followed by an error by a Quakes infielder.

Ryu wrapped up the third and final inning without much trouble, striking out two batters to conclude the inning without any runs. Ryu ceded two runs, including one earned run, and three hits during his outing on Monday.

In May 2015, Ryu received surgery on his left shoulder due to a torn labrum. The labrum is a piece of fibrocartilage affixed to the shoulder socket to keep the ball of the joint in place. It is also the part that pitchers most frequently injure. After being sidelined because of the surgery, the left-hander has endured a tedious and mentally draining rehabilitation process for a year and finally had his first live pitching session in a game on May 16 in a Single-A minor league game. He tossed 22 pitches for two innings.

After playing in his second Single-A minor league game on May 21, where he pitched for three innings while throwing 44 balls, he finally made it all the way up to the Triple-A on May 26. During that game, Ryu worked his way up to 55 pitches in four innings. The velocity of his fastball reached as high as 143 kilometers per hour (89 miles per hour). But then, everything came to a halt before his fourth game in the minors when he felt soreness on his shoulder. The setback cost the Dodgers the much anticipated return of Ryu, tentatively putting an end to Ryu’s much-progressed rehabilitation process.

Dave Roberts, the manager of the Dodgers, has been making detailed plans on when to bring Ryu back to the big league. Roberts’ initial intention was to have Ryu return on June 11 against San Francisco Giants. That, of course, was not going to happen. Restarting his rehab in the minors, Ryu will now have to climb his way back up to Double-A and Triple-A before finally getting to the big league stage.

The Dodgers’ medical team continues to check on Ryu’s shoulder and after every checkup, the team doctor finds “no problem where Ryu received the surgery.” This means the pain for Ryu stems, not from the labrum, but from the muscle around the cartilage. Medical specialists deem shoulder surgery more dangerous than elbow surgery because it is difficult to strengthen the muscle and nerve tissues that envelop the shoulder joint and cartilage once they undergo surgical procedure. Although development in medical technology has increased the rate of success, it still takes at least a year for full recovery. Ryu suffering from soreness and pain is not entirely alarming, and it could simply be considered part of the healing process.

Still, the Dodgers coaching staff could not risk anything. After Ryu complained for soreness, the team’s staff simply couldn’t figure out when to place Ryu in rehab games to pitch again. The bottom line was that his shoulder was speculated to be in no condition to proceed with any demanding activities.

According to the Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt last week, Ryu has been “spending a lot of time in the training room.” This meant he was back to the initial stage of rehab, starting from scratch with physical therapies and muscle strengthening. Although he has finally shown himself in a minor league game once more, there seems to be no short cut for Ryu at the moment. He will have to take his time to be where he was in the rehab process before the soreness overwhelmed him.

It’s still unclear when Ryu will be able to show up in a Major League game again. Although Roberts hopes for Ryu to return by the end of the month, the prospect is unlikely. After restarting his rehab process, Ryu will now have to undergo three to four more minors games to test his shoulder. Even if the pain is not aggravated, it would be well into July or later before Ryu completes the procedure.

Roberts says the Dodgers need Ryu and that his performance upon his return would surpass that of 2013. But, the coaching staff is cautious. Honeycutt was adamant about not “rushing” his return when asked about possibly accelerating Ryu’s rehab process. The Dodgers have no choice but to remain patient until Ryu is fit enough.

BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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