Dodgers hope Ryu's return stabilizes rotation
Left-hander to face Mets in first start since experiencing sore shoulder
NEW YORK -- There is simmering clubhouse tension over the Dodgers' uneasy outfield platoon, frustration with the defense of shortstop Hanley Ramirez and head scratching over an underachieving bullpen.
Too many square pegs for round holes have the Dodgers resembling the disappointment of the early months of 2013.
Manager Don Mattingly, while saying the juggling outfield platoon is producing offense, gave a glimpse of the unrest over outfielders' playing time Sunday when he said, "Somebody is always not happy."
On any given day, that somebody is either Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp. It's not Yasiel Puig, who plays every game, and plays well enough to win National League co-Player of the Week.
Another issue is Ramirez, who is playing for a new contract, which the Dodgers apparently won't give him until he shows he won't break down physically. So far his body hasn't, but his defense has. As if to make sure he stays healthy, Ramirez has shown limited range on defense. Shortstops traditionally take charge in the infield, but he often defers to others. Sunday on the bases, Ramirez even pulled up at third rather than heading home when Arizona's defense conceded a run that never scored.
The bullpen, on paper a strength, has been rocked recently by bad outings from, among others, Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. Over the winter, the Dodgers felt a bullpen deep in former closers was an asset. Now comes the explanation that those closers, Wilson in particular, are struggling to adjust to setup roles that lack the pressure and intensity from their glory days.
So the highest-paid team in history has lost six of the last eight series as it prepares for three games against the Mets, the one Wednesday night marking the return from the disabled list of starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Apparently recovered from shoulder blade tenderness, Ryu can't solve all the drama that has the Dodgers foundering, but he'll make the starting rotation whole again (not counting Chad Billingsley's uncertain return).
Until he came up sore in his last start April 27, Ryu dispelled any notion of a sophomore slump. He was 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA, averaging 5 2/3 innings a start. Paul Maholm made seven starts replacing Clayton Kershaw, then Ryu, going 1-4 with a 5.50 ERA, averaging 5 1/3 innings a start.
So the Dodgers expect a little longer and a lot more effective starts from Ryu, with Maholm shifting to a long-relief role and management forced to make a tricky corresponding move Wednesday.
Ryu said his discomfort is gone after 3 1/2 weeks of treatment, as he expected after he dealt with a similar injury in Korea in 2011.
"I feel healthy and I don't feel I need to be extra careful during my start," said Ryu. "The only difference is the extra shoulder exercises I'm doing after the injury. Otherwise, my routine is normal. I'm not aware of any pitch limitations, but that's not up to me.
"The hard part about being out is that I kind of felt bad for the rotation. I felt I wasn't able to pull my load for the team while on the sidelines. Now that I'm coming back, I will be able to contribute."
Although Ryu did not pitch in a Minor League rehab start, the club feels he accomplished the same thing by throwing a simulated game at its extended spring complex at Camelback Ranch in Arizona. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Ryu came through that 75-pitch workout fine and the green light was given based on the pitcher's feedback.
"It's all about the way he's feeling," said Honeycutt. "We'll watch him carefully. You always look to see if the fastball velocity is maintained and the arm speed for other pitches. But because Hyun-Jin is a command guy, when you see him missing up -- especially on his throwing arm side -- that's more telling to me than the velocity."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.