The Hyun-Jin Ryu the Dodgers dreaded seeing, the suddenly hittable version, had already surfaced Thursday at Chase Field when the disconcerting reality was hammered home in the fifth inning of their 11-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The left-hander had quickly gotten two outs. Two weeks ago, before a precipitous slide generated concerns about his gas tank and stained his Cy Young resume, Ryu would have slammed the door shut. But, suddenly, a different Ryu has materialized to throw a wrench in the Dodgers’ season. This Ryu gave up five consecutive two-out hits and three runs and didn’t survive the inning. He left having allowed a season-high-tying seven runs on a season-high-tying 10 hits over 4 2/3 innings.
“They seemed to be thinking more about contact rather than something big,” Ryu said through interpreter Bryan Lee. “Along the process, they were able to get some soft hits as well as some of the hard-hit balls, which made it difficult for me.”
Three of the five game-changing two-out hits in the fifth inning were products of soft contact, suggesting luck was not on Ryu’s side. The results still resonated.
For nearly five months, Ryu smoothly wiggled out of the few jams he confronted and was nearly untouchable with runners in scoring position. Over his first 22 starts, he posted a league-best 1.45 earned-run average and 0.95 WHIP. He held opponents to a .221 batting average. He allowed more than two runs once. He was the best pitcher in the National League, if not the majors, a bona-fide ace to top a World Series contender’s rotation.
But Ryu has stumbled mightily in his last three outings. He’s given up 18 runs on 25 hits across 14 2/3 innings — good for an 11.05 ERA. He’s allowed seven runs in each of his last two starts and four in the other. The Dodgers are 0-3 in the games.
“I think the hitters’ approach in general has caught up to how I used to pitch so I think there is a need for a change from my end to get ahead in the game again,” Ryu said. “I think that’s one change that has to come.”
He exited Thursday with 157 1/3 innings pitched this season, his most logged since 2014. This week he insisted he was not fatigued, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team plans on either skipping Ryu’s turn in the rotation or shortening one of his starts in September to lessen his workload before the postseason.
After Thursday’s game, however, Roberts insisted he doesn’t believe fatigue is the root of Ryu’s ails. He pointed to his sustained velocity. He said he believes slight command trouble is the source. He added Ryu will make his next start.
“There was certainly bad luck in there but I think that, overall, it’s just one of those where he’s just off,” Roberts said.
Adam Kolarek relieved Ryu and secured the final out before further damage was inflicted, but the Dodgers’ hopes of a comeback, always high for a club wielding one of the sport’s best offenses, diminished in the sixth inning. Joe Kelly allowed consecutive hits to the begin his appearance before Eduardo Escobar slammed a three-run home run.
The Diamondbacks’ outburst soiled A.J. Pollock’s (sort of) return to Chase Field. Thursday was not the first time Pollock was a visitor. The Dodgers center fielder was with his club in Arizona earlier after spending his first seven major-league seasons as a Diamondback, but he was on the injured list then. Thursday marked his first game at his old stamping grounds.
To commemorate the occasion, the Diamondbacks readied a video tribute and played it on the videoboard before the start of the second. The footage, however, apparently malfunctioned. The moment got awkward. A camera frantically panned to an unsuspecting Dodgers dugout. Pollock emerged for a bashful acknowledgment.
On the field, the Diamondbacks dared Pollock to beat them. Twice the Diamondbacks intentionally walked Cody Bellinger with first base unoccupied to get to Pollock.
The strategy backfired in both instances. In the third inning, after Justin Turner had lined a two-run double, Pollock worked a bases-loaded walk against right-hander Merrill Kelly to give Los Angeles a 3-0 lead.
In the fifth, he lofted a single to right to load the bases again. Corey Seager followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the score at four. That was it for the Dodgers’ offense until Turner’s home run in the ninth.
The Diamondbacks had tallied four in the fourth before finishing their knockout of Ryu with their two-out blitz in the fifth. He was pulled after giving up a single to Carson Kelly with his 93rd pitch. His ERA, 1.45 three starts ago, has been inflated to 2.35, still best in the majors but by a small margin, one that is shrinking by the start.
“I don’t think my command was as bad as the last two games that I pitched,” Ryu said. “But I guess, result-wise, it wasn’t there for me.”