Los Angeles gambled more than $61 million after winning the exclusive negotiating rights to Ryu and signing him to a six-year contract.
In Korea’s top professional baseball league, Ryu sparkled, winning the Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards, leading the league in strikeouts five times, and pitching in the All Star game each of his seven seasons.
Despite the lofty achievements, some wondered if the success abroad would translate in the Major Leagues. Ryu answered his critics by going 14-8 as the number three starter for the Western Division champs.
So what has been the key to Ryu’s performance in his first season in the big leagues?
“I think it’s just basically the guy can pitch,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve talked about a lot of the reasons why, locates with the fastball, both sides of the plate, can go up and down. He’s got a good changeup that he can go either side, and when his breaking ball is good, he’s really at another level.”
Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez likewise has confidence in his rookie hurler.
“He’s going to go out, and he’s going to compete like he always has,” Gonzalez said. “If he gets his fastball command and throws the secondary pitches, he’s going to be ok.”
Teheran has been better than ok for the Braves, posting the same 14-8 win/loss mark as Ryu. While Ryu has pitched professionally for years, Teheran comes in with little pro experience. At 22 years old, he’s the youngest pitcher to make a start for the Braves since Steve Avery in 1992.
“I never thought I was going to throw one game like this one,” Teheran said. “But I’m just trying to think that I’m going to throw a regular game like the regular season game, just do my best and go out there and compete.”
Ryu has been on a big stage before, going 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA for Gold Medal winning Korea in the 2008 Olympics. The following year he was undefeated in five appearances in the World Baseball Classic.
“I can’t really say how big of a game this is compared to my other games,” Ryu said through a translator. “Every big game is a big game. But obviously, considering my Major League status, this one is a very important game for me.”
How Ryu starts the game will be key. In 30 starts, the 6’2” lefty has allowed 17 earned runs in the first inning.
“Yeah, it’s funny, but I never actually try to go out there and give up runs in the first inning,” Ryu said. “Yes, I will be a little extra nervous tomorrow because it is the Postseason, but as I do every game, I take the mound trying to win and trying to pitch the best I can.”
Click on the slideshow to see other interesting facts about today’s starting pitchers.
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