Hyun-Jin Ryu threw 91 pitches Sunday, none faster than 92.5 mph and only six that were swung on and missed, hardly the kind of stuff that would be described as overpowering. A second coming of Randy Johnson, Ryu is not.
But as the Dodgers are reminded every time Ryu takes the mound, velocity and double-digit strikeout totals are not prerequisites for dominance.
The left-hander came off the injured list to throw seven scoreless innings, giving up five hits, striking out four batters and walking one, in Sunday’s 9-3 victory over Arizona in front of 44,619 in Dodger Stadium to improve to 12-2 with a major league-best 1.45 earned-run average in 22 starts.
“It was vintage Ryu — changing speeds, pitching to all four quadrants, keeping guys off balance,” said third baseman Justin Turner, who hit two of the Dodgers’ four home runs against starter Mike Leake (9-9). “He’s like Houdini. He gets in trouble and he seems to always find a way out of it.”
Ryu, who did not make one start because of neck stiffness, got into trouble only twice, when the Diamondbacks put runners on second base and third with two outs in the fifth inning, and first and second with no outs in the sixth.
Ryu got Tim Locastro to ground out to end the fifth. He got Christian Walker to fly to the wall in right field and Wilmer Flores to ground into a double play to end the sixth.
Ryu had excellent command of his five pitches and kept Arizona off-balance by varying the speed and location of his changeup, cut-fastball, two-seam fastball, curve and four-seam fastball. He induced 12 groundball outs.
“I think dominance is relative in a sense of the strikeout versus keeping runs off the board and being efficient, going deep into games,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Today, he missed barrels, allowed soft contact, and when you layer in infield positioning converting balls into play into outs, that’s the name of the game.”
Ryu is flirting with franchise history. His ERA is better than the club record for lowest in a season by a pitcher with a minimum of 20 starts, the 1.58 mark by Hall of Famer Rube Marquard for the 1916 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“It’s definitely unbelievable,” Ryu, speaking through an interpreter, said of his ERA. “Like I’ve said many times, it’s not all because of myself. There are many people around me, including my teammates, who have helped me reach that number.”
Ryu’s 19th quality start capped a three-game series in which Dodgers starters — Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda and Ryu — tossed 20 scoreless innings, giving up 12 hits and striking out 18 batters. Ryu improved to 3-0 with a 0.45 ERA in three starts against the Diamondbacks this season.
“He’s a prime example of if you locate your pitches and change speeds, keep guys off balance, you can get a lot of outs and be very efficient in this game,” Turner said. “He’s throwing the ball well for us.”
Ryu pitched with little stress thanks to a Dodgers offense that racked up 14 hits, built a 6-0 lead through three innings and hit at least four home runs for the 13th time this season.
Turner hit a towering fly ball that barely cleared the left-field wall for a two-run home run, his 18th, in the first inning. Cody Bellinger followed with a home run into the left-center field seats for his 38th home run and a 3-0 lead. Of Bellinger’s seven hits this month, four have been home runs.
Joc Pederson’s run-scoring single pushed the lead to 4-0 in the second inning, and Corey Seager’s two-out double and Will Smith’s two-run home run to left field, the rookie catcher’s seventh, made it 6-0 in the third.
Turner led off the fifth inning with a home run to left-center field, the ninth multihomer game of his career. Doubles by Bellinger and Seager — Bellinger tagged on Seager’s fly into the right-field corner and advanced only to third base — and Smith’s sacrifice fly made it 8-0 in the fifth.
“That’s the plan every day,” Turner said, “try to get on the board early and give our starting pitchers some breathing room so they can go out and just pound the strike zone.”