Ryu Hyun-jin shows vintage self in effective KBO preseason debut

Hanwha Eagles starting pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin pitches against the Kia Tigers during a Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, March 12. Yonhap

Former major league All-Star Ryu Hyun-jin pitched four innings of one-run ball Tuesday in his first preseason game in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) since 2012, as he nears a much-anticipated Opening Day start later this month. Ryu gave up a run on three hits in four innings against the Kia Tigers in a preseason contest at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, some 160 kilometers south of Seoul. The left-hander struck out three and did not walk a batter .Painting the corners and changing speeds to keep hitters off balance, Ryu threw 62 pitches, right around the number the Eagles had in mind, and 41 of them were strikes .Ryu rejoined the Eagles on an eight-year, 17 billion-won ($13 million) contract last month, returning home after 11 years in Major League Baseball (MLB). Ryu first pitched for the Eagles from 2006 and 2012, a run that included the MVP and the Rookie of the Year awards in 2006, a Triple Crown, and two ERA titles. In MLB, Ryu was the National League (NL) starter at the 2019 All-Star Game for the Los Angeles Dodgers and led MLB with a 2.32 ERA that same year. He finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2019 for the Dodgers and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award race the following year for the Toronto Blue Jays. This was the first of Ryu’s two scheduled preseason outings. He is slated to face the Lotte Giants on Sunday and then make his regular season debut on the first day of the season against the defending champions LG Twins on March 23.

This was also Ryu’s first outing this spring against opposing hitters in front of fans. He threw in an intrasquad scrimmage last week behind closed doors in Daejeon, which came after a live batting practice and bullpen sessions in the Eagles’ camp in Japan. The Tigers’ manager, Lee Bum-ho, had said last week he would send out his best lineup against Ryu, so that his regulars would have a chance to see the veteran left-hander early before the regular season. Lee lived up to his word, and his batters showed some patience against the crafty pitcher early on. Leadoff Park Chan-ho took five pitches before taking the bat off his shoulder and grounded out to shortstop. Lee Woo-sung fouled off four pitches befoe driving a 2-2 changeup to right field corner for a double. Kim Do-yeong then ambushed Ryu and jumped on a first-pitch fastball for an RBI single up the middle .Ryu settled down and retired two dangerous hitters on three pitches, with Na Sung-bum popping out to second baseman Moon Hyun-bin and Socrates Brito grounding out to second after swinging on the first pitch. Ryu then had the front-row seat to the Eagles’ offensive explosion, as they erupted for nine runs in the bottom of the first, highlighted by Roh Si-hwan’s three-run homer .Ryu struck out Choi Hyoung-woo to begin the second inning and got Kim Sun-bin to bounce out to third. The Eagles breathed a sigh of relief when Ryu took a comebacker by Han Jun-su off his left foot but did not sustain any injury. Ryu retired Choi Won-jun to a flyout to left to complete the inning .Ryu retired the side in order in the third inning, though he needed 17 pitches to do it. Park, the leadoff man, once again worked deep into the count, fouling off three straight pitches before grounding out to shortstop on pitch No. 7.Ryu got the better of Lee Woo-sung in Lee’s second at-bat, as he struck out swinging on a 2-2 changeup. Kim Do-yeong lined out softly to second base.

In the fourth inning, Na Sung-bum reached on an error by first baseman Chae Eun-seong and took second base when the ball trickled into the foul territory. But Ryu struck out Brito on three pitches, freezing him with a slow curve followed by two straight fastballs on the outside corner. Choi Hyoung-woo grounded out to first after working the count full. Kim Sun-bin then hit a grounder back toward the mound, and Ryu had the ball ricochet off his leg before picking it up and tossing it to Chae for the final out of the inning and also of his start .Ryu mixed in every pitch in his arsenal, offering 29 four-seam fastballs, 12 changeups, 11 curveballs and 10 cutters, and showed strong command with all of them. Ryu touched 148 kilometers per hour (91.9 miles per hour) with his fastball and averaged 144 kph with the pitch .He got the hook after four frames with the Eagles up 9-1 and continued his work in the bullpen afterward. The Eagles won the game 9-1, after the game was called with two outs in the top of the eighth inning due to a heavy downpour. The Eagles only needed six hits to get those nine runs, as the Tigers pitchers issued six walks and hit two batters .Roh Si-hwan, the 2023 MVP runner-up and the reigning league home run king, paced the Eagles’ 슬롯사이트 offense with two hits and five RBIs.

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