The two-year layoff tested Hyun-Jin Ryu's resolve and jeopardized his standing within the Dodgers hierarchy of starting pitchers, but it did not dull his instincts. Ryu made that apparent with the final act of his Cactus League debut, reaching behind his back to snag a ground ball and complete two scoreless innings against the Angels on Saturday afternoon.
"When it was coming off the bat, I sort of saw it," Ryu said through an interpreter. "But I just anticipated its flight path, and just happened to get there."
Ryu put his head down as he walked off the mound toward the dugout. He struck out two batters and gave up a single during his outing, which came after multiple sessions of live batting practice to test the readiness of his surgically repaired left shoulder. He passed his first test, but many others remain.
Ryu is still unlikely to make the rotation at the start of the season since the team will be cautious about his usage this spring. Manager Dave Roberts has not ruled out Ryu from the competition for the last two spots in the group, but he said the team will not force the issue.
"With him, we're being very deliberate," Roberts said. "With the depth that we have with our starting pitching, there's really no rush."
The Dodgers also have Julio Urias, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling and Scott Kazmir as options to start. Kazmir threw four innings in a simulated game on a minor league field Saturday morning. Kazmir made an abbreviated start during the week because of left hip tightness.
"Physically, I think he's fine," Roberts said. "He's still trying to work some things out."
The reports were more encouraging on Ryu. One rival evaluator clocked Ryu's fastball velocity between 88 mph and 91 mph. In 2013 and 2014, his fastball averaged 91 mph.
Ryu could hit that number at times during his aborted comeback last season, but could not hold the velocity. The fastball would descend into the mid-80s as his outings stretched into middle innings.
Ryu cannot prove his readiness for extended duty in only two-inning stints. But he shrugged off questions about his velocity, as most pitchers do at this time of year.
"At this point of the season, that's really not my point of emphasis," Ryu said. "I'm more concerned about my command, and other things."
Trayce Thompson makes spring debut
Trayce Thompson appeared in his first game of the spring as he returned from the fractured back that cost him most of 2016. Thompson went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
He was scheduled to appear in five innings. When Roberts asked him whether he wanted to play the sixth, Thompson did not hesitate. He went out for an extra inning of defense.
Given his slowed timetable and rust after time off, Thompson appears unlikely to make the opening-day roster. He looks bound for a stint in the minors to polish his swing before being recalled.
"Today I was just jumpy, just anxious," Thompson said. "Obviously, the results weren't there today. I'm working on some things in my swing, as I usually do every spring training. I felt OK. I was just happy to be out there, and get the first day over with."