Dodgers’ Ryu, Martin bring mu­tual re­spect into Game 3

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY J.P. HOORNSTRA Daily News, Los An­ge­les

Asked to pin­point the source of his strug­gles this sea­son, Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu blamed him­self. “When­ever I have an off game,” he said Fri­day, “it’s usu­ally the bal­ance when I make the de­liv­ery and that led to mis­take pitches.”

Pub­licly and pri­vately, Ryu has re­sisted blam­ing the man in a crouch be­hind home plate. Call it a co­in­ci­dence, but Ryu was ir­refutably bad dur­ing a stretch of three sum­mer starts with rookie Will Smith catch­ing.

Smith, who be­came the Dodgers’ pri­mary back­stop af­ter the All-Star break, started the first two games of the best-of-five Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries. But he will give way to Rus­sell Martin when Ryu pitches Game 3 in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on Sun­day.

With Martin be­hind the plate, Ryu had a 1.52 earne­drun av­er­age in 20 starts this sea­son. Throw­ing to Smith, Ryu had a 5.40 ERA in six starts.

“If you look at his ca­reer, (Martin) had an amaz­ing ca­reer,” Ryu said through his in­ter­preter. “So from the get-go, you have to re­spect that. And he’s been an in­cred­i­ble help in terms of com­mu­ni­cat­ing and be­ing on the same page. Even from Day 1, as a vet­eran, he made sure that we were on the same page and from the getgo, we had a great start to the sea­son, hence the good re­sults through­out the sea­son.” The ad­mi­ra­tion is mu­tual. “The num­bers say that he’s good with me, but he’s just a good pitcher,” Martin said of Ryu. “He can ex­e­cute pitches and do dif­fer­ent things, and he’s re­ally good at cre­at­ing his own game plan. He stud­ies hit­ters. He knows ex­actly what he wants to do out there. I’m try­ing to guide him, just stay in synch, feel what he wants to do.”

Now 36, Martin is play­ing out the string on the lu­cra­tive con­tract he signed with the Blue Jays prior to the 2015

sea­son. The re­main­der of his ca­reer might mea­sure in weeks, if not days.

An­drew Fried­man, the Dodgers’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, did not ac­quire Martin with the in­ten­tion of mak­ing him the team’s ev­ery­day catcher. Martin started only three of the Dodgers’ fi­nal 12 reg­u­lar-sea­son games, the most re­cent com­ing on Sept. 28.

Yet Martin seems to have found his ticket to post­sea­son play­ing time in Ryu, who led all of base­ball with a 2.32 ERA. Sun­day will be Martin’s first play­off game in a Dodgers uni­form since 2009. His teams have reached the post­sea­son 10 times in 14 sea­sons.

Ryu skipped a start af­ter la­bor­ing through 4 1⁄3 in­nings against the Rock­ies on Sept. 4, a no-de­ci­sion. When he re­turned to the mound 10 days later, Martin was be­hind the plate. Ryu threw seven shutout in­nings that day against the New York Mets.

Smith caught Ryu’s next game, Sept. 22 against the Rock­ies. The left-han­der al­lowed three runs over seven in­nings and picked up his first win in more than a month. But Martin re­turned for Ryu’s fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son start, a 2-0 win in San Fran­cisco on the sec­ond-to-last day of the sea­son.

As for Ryu’s the­ory that be­ing off-bal­ance was the source of his sum­mer woes, Martin de­ferred.

“He knows him­self very well,” Martin said. “If he thinks that’s what it is, that’s prob­a­bly what it is.”

YOU HAD JUAN JOB

Dodgers pitcher Adam Ko­larek didn’t know much about Juan Soto be­fore this week. In 10 pro­fes­sional sea­sons, he’d never pitched to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ tal­ented 20year-old.

The left-handed re­liever be­gan do­ing his home­work once Wash­ing­ton beat the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers in the NL wild-card game. Two games into the NLDS, that home­work has paid off.

Ko­larek struck out Soto on three pitches in the sev­enth in­ning of Game 1. When Soto’s turn to bat ar­rived in the sev­enth in­ning of Game 2, Man­ager Dave Roberts again sum­moned Ko­larek from the bullpen. It took nine pitches this time, but Ko­larek got Soto to ground out with one out and two run­ners on base in a 3-1 game.

“I kind of have a sim­i­lar plan of at­tack no mat­ter who’s in the box,” Ko­larek said. “I try to stick with that.”

That’s a rare ap­proach for any pitcher, but Ko­larek’s role al­lows him to get away with it. He knows he will face a left­handed hit­ter, usu­ally at a junc­ture when one hit can change the game. The Na­tion­als’ best left-handed hit­ter is Soto, who hit 34 home runs, drove in 110 runs, and reached base at a .401 clip in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

A right-handed hit­ter, Howie Ken­drick, bat­ted be­hind Soto in each of the first two games. So as soon as Ko­larek com­pleted his task, Roberts went back to the bullpen for a right-handed re­liever.

Left­ies bat­ted just .156 against Ko­larek af­ter he was ac­quired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a deadline-day trade. The au­di­tion went well enough for the Dodgers to give Ko­larek one of their 25 post­sea­son ros­ter spots.

At 30 years old, he’s get­ting less at­ten­tion than fel­low play­off rook­ies Dustin May, Gavin Lux, and Will Smith, though Ko­larek is soak­ing up the ex­pe­ri­ence just the same.

“The in­tro­duc­tions, the an­them, the huge flag in cen­ter field, it’s all the lit­tle stuff that adds to the spec­ta­cle of play­off base­ball,” he said. “I think that’s what I was most look­ing for­ward to, as far as stuff that’s out­side the game and get­ting to ex­pe­ri­ence that for the first time.”

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Rus­sell Martin

MARY ALTAFFER AP

Los An­ge­les Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu will start Game 3 on Sun­day in Wash­ing­ton with Rus­sell Martin catch­ing. With Martin be­hind the plate, Ryu had a 1.52 earned-run av­er­age in 20 starts this sea­son. With Will Smith catch­ing, Ryu had a 5.40 ERA in six starts. The best-of-five se­ries is tied 1-1.

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