SAN DIEGO — As Brian Wilson recounted his eighth-inning implosion Sunday, he made certain his failures wouldn't obscure something positive that came out of the Dodgers' 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was, in Wilson's words, “marvelous.”
“As far as a silver lining, that would be it,” Wilson said.
With Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list with a strained back muscle, the Dodgers called on Ryu to pitch their first game of the season on American soil.
For one night, at least, the left-hander from South Korea was a suitable replacement for the best pitcher in baseball. Ryu pitched seven scoreless innings, retiring 16 consecutive batters at one point and departing the game with his team ahead, 1-0.
Ryu was denied a victory only by the Padres' three-run eighth inning with Wilson on the mound.
“Hyun-Jin was just about as good as we've seen him,” Manager Don Mattingly said.
This was the Dodgers' third game of the regular season, but it felt like the first.
They were already a week removed from their two-game, season-opening series in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Whereas the sights and sounds associated with opening day were absent at the Sydney Cricket Ground, everything was here at Petco Park: The giant American flag, the military servicemen, the parachuters landing on the field.
Ryu knew this was no ordinary game.
“You always get nervous and a little anxious when it's any season opener,” Ryu said through interpreter Martin Kim. “I think I was a little jittery early in the game.”
Perhaps the nerves are what got him in trouble.
Ryu walked Jedd Gyorko in the first inning to load the bases, but forced Yonder Alonso to hit a ball right back at him. Ryu fired the ball home to catcher A.J. Ellis, who, in turn, delivered it to first base to complete an inning-ending double play.
Ryu gave up consecutive singles to Tommy Medica and Will Venable to begin the second inning, but held the Padres scoreless there, too.
“He has that knack to really dial it up when the situation calls for it,” Ellis said. “He's a competitor, a pitch maker. He's very, very comfortable pitching in jams and confident he can get out of it.”
Ryu cruised for the remainder of the night.
After the second-inning single by Venable, Ryu retired the next 16 San Diego batters. The Dodgers went ahead, 1-0, in the fifth inning when Carl Crawford singled in Dee Gordon.
From the view behind home plate, what made Ryu particularly effective was his curveball.
If the changeup is considered the best of the four pitches Ryu throws, the curveball has been the least consistent. Ryu has worked on improving the pitch for the last few years and has recently experimented with a new grip.
“When he started throwing it in the game, immediately I could tell on my end, this is a pitch that was different than what he's thrown in the past,” Ellis said.
When Ryu threw the pitch last season, Ellis said it looped out of his hand, offering batters a clue to what was coming.
Now, Ellis said, “It's more of a pitch that stays on plane with his other three pitches, which adds deception.”
As well as he was pitching, Ryu knew when enough was enough. The decision to place the game in Wilson's hands was his.
“I noticed in the seventh inning, my ball was slowing down a little bit and I was a little bit tired so I went up to Donnie and told him it was probably better I come out of the game,” Ryu said.
At the time of his departure, Ryu had thrown 88 pitches.
Including his five scoreless innings in Australia, Ryu has tossed 12 shutout innings this season. He said the toenail that cut short his previous start is no longer troubling him.
With no timetable set for Kershaw's return, Ryu's form could be vital to the Dodgers. So could that of Zack Greinke, who didn't pitch in Australia because of a strained calf muscle. Greinke will start for the Dodgers when they resume their series against the Padres on Tuesday.
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