Dodgers’ Ryu, Martin bring mutual respect into Game 3
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.”
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.