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Ryu Hyun-jin likely to pitch in 2 preseason games before KBO Opening Day start: manager

By Yonhap

Published : March 4, 2024 - 21:22

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Ryu Hyun-jin returns to Korea through Incheon International Airport on Monday after Hanwha Eagles spring training in Okinawa, Japan. (Yonhap) Ryu Hyun-jin returns to Korea through Incheon International Airport on Monday after Hanwha Eagles spring training in Okinawa, Japan. (Yonhap)

Former major league All-Star Ryu Hyun-jin will likely make two preseason appearances before marking his much-anticipated regular season return to the top South Korean league, his manager said Monday.

Ryu and the Hanwha Eagles returned home Monday from their spring training in Okinawa, Japan. Ryu, the 2019 National League All-Star Game starter, reunited with the Eagles on an eight-year contract on Feb. 22, and flew to Okinawa to report to camp the following day. His deal, worth 17 billion won ($12.8 million), is the largest in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Ryu, who first pitched for the Eagles from 2006 to 2012, will be a no-brainer choice for the club's Opening Day tilt against the defending champions LG Twins on March 23 in Seoul. And Eagles manager Choi Won-ho said Monday the team will work the schedule backward from that point to ensure Ryu will get in enough work and also have some rest before the start of the regular season.

While in Okinawa, Ryu threw a live batting practice and had some bullpen sessions.

"He will pitch in a scrimmage on Thursday, on four days' rest after his live batting practice," Choi told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. "And then he will pitch about twice with four days of break in between during the preseason. And he will have five days off before the Opening Day start."

The exhibition season starts Saturday. By Choi's planning, Ryu is lined up to start against the Kia Tigers on March 12 and then against the Lotte Giants on March 17.

Ryu's return will be one of the biggest storylines in the KBO this season. He was one of the most dominant starters in South Korea during his first stint, winning the MVP and the Rookie of the Year award in 2006 when he led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He led the KBO in ERA twice and in strikeouts five times.

While in the majors, Ryu was a Cy Young Award finalist twice -- once in the National League for the Los Angeles Dodgers and once in the American League for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2019, he led the majors with a 2.32 ERA.

Even though Ryu only returned from his second Tommy John elbow surgery last summer and is turning 37 later this month, he is still seen by opposing teams as a pitcher to be feared. Choi said Ryu will be the Eagles' No. 1 starter and has looked the part so far.

"Although he'd only thrown indoors before camp, he still looked really good," Choi said. "He threw his breaking pitches really well and had strong command of his pitches. If he can follow the schedule the rest of the way, he should have no problem making the Opening Day start."

The Eagles have been one of the KBO's doormats in recent years, having reached the postseason only once since Ryu left them in 2012. They've been in perennial rebuilding mode but they can afford to dream big dreams this year thanks to Ryu.

"We went into spring training with the goal of making the postseason but we still had some concerns," Choi admitted. "But with Ryu Hyun-jin in the mix, I think we can all chase our goal with confidence."

The Eagles did not make Ryu available for a media scrum Monday. (Yonhap)