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Dodgers

Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu to start opening day after Rich Hill is sidelined by knee injury

Hyun-Jin Ryu
Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu delivers during an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts named Hyun-Jin Ryu the team’s opening day starter Friday, ending a monthlong mystery lengthened by injuries to the club’s first three choices for the nod.

The third injury was revealed Friday: Rich Hill has a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and will begin the season on the injured list. He’ll join Clayton Kershaw, who battled shoulder inflammation this spring. Walker Buehler won’t begin the season on the injured list, but he won’t pitch until the season’s fourth or fifth game after an undisclosed ailment early in camp braked his spring progression.

The injuries also mean Julio Urias and Ross Stripling will begin the season in the starting rotation, joining Ryu, Buehler and Kenta Maeda.

The Dodgers open the season Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium.

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Hill first experienced knee discomfort in his start Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers. He allowed three runs on eight hits in 4⅔ innings and said he felt a pull in his knee on his fourth-to-last pitch.

The discomfort resurfaced during a bullpen session this week. He found a way to avoid the pain, but every time he returned to his usual mechanics the pain also returned. So he underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam that revealed a Grade 1 MCL strain, the least severe category. Hill was scheduled to start in the Dodgers’ final Cactus League game on Saturday, but the plan was scrapped. Roberts estimated he could miss two weeks.

“I just put too much stress in my knee when I drop down,” Hill said. “It’s an unconventional injury, but it was something that makes sense when I look at it from the stress that you put on that knee.”

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Hill, 39, was the clear favorite to start on opening day before the knee issue after Kershaw and Buehler were ruled out. He reported to camp having altered his offseason throwing program, starting it earlier in the winter. He arrived with more than 10 bullpen sessions under his belt and credited the change for his healthy and strong spring. The vibes changed Sunday.

Hill has dealt with several injuries over his 14-year major-league career, but he said he had never dealt with a knee problem. Since reestablishing himself as a major leaguer in 2016, his stints on the injured list have been prompted by a groin injury and various blister problems.

“It’s still fully attached, everything’s good,” Hill said. “But you don’t want to push the envelope and try to be ready to pitch on opening day and have something terrible happen for the entire season, because that would be much more damaging than letting it recover. ... Two weeks seems like an eternity, but the good thing is everything else is healthy. I feel great.”

Ryu said Roberts told him Saturday morning he would start in the opener. He will be the first pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw to start for the Dodgers on opening day since Vicente Padilla in 2010 and the first left-hander not named Clayton Kershaw to start on opening day for the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela in 1988. He will be the second pitcher from South Korea to get the nod. Chan Ho Park — the first Korean-born player in major league history — started for the Dodgers on opening day in 2001.

It will be Ryu’s first opening day start in his major league career, but not the first of his professional career; he estimated he started on opening day in Korea four or five times. The difference? They didn’t do pregame flyovers in Korea.

“It’s definitely special,” Ryu said through an interpreter.

Ryu, 32, was the Dodgers’ fourth choice, but he isn’t a shabby one. He compiled a 1.97 earned-run average in 15 regular-season starts in 2018. The performance was good enough for the Dodgers to name him the starter for Game 1 of the National League Division Series. He held the Atlanta Braves scoreless over seven innings that night, but didn’t pitch out of the fifth inning in three other playoff outings.

Roberts revealed Stripling will start the second game of the season, followed by Maeda and Buehler. Urias, who originally was slated to begin the season in the bullpen so the Dodgers could limit his workload, will fill the final spot in the rotation after an impressive spring. Urias will next pitch in the third game of the Freeway Series on Tuesday and would make his first regular-season start the following Monday against the San Francisco Giants.

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“The world changes as rosters do, so you have to read and react at times,” Roberts said.

jorge.castillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @jorgecastillo


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