Asked Don Mattingly, asked Hyun-Jin Ryu himself and asked A.J. Ellis, and none of them seemed overly concerned about this — even though all three acknowledged that it’s a thing. Mattingly, as you may have seen in the video, mentioned that he had given up the first-inning homer to Giancarlo Stanton in his previous start before settling in, but proving once again that a big league baseball team plays so many games that they all run together, Donnie was confused here. It was Zack Greinke who gave up a first-inning homer to Stanton in Miami and then went on to dominate. Ryu actually pitched a scoreless first inning against the Marlins on Monday night, but then he wound up taking the loss on an evening when he wasn’t nearly as sharp as usual.
Today, once he got past that disastrous and ultimately decisive first inning, Ryu was as sharp as usual. Very sharp, in fact. Retired 14 of the remaining 16 batters he faced after Jonny Gomes‘ home run. Wasn’t enough, though, to save Ryu from the first two-start losing streak of his young career.
When comparing Ryu’s first innings to all his other innings, the most striking stat to me was this: he has given up 13 home runs this year, six of which have been hit in the first inning. I have now seen him pitch in person five times this year, including two games from the stands when I took my very Korean significant other to see him pitch and three games as a reporter since I launched this blog, and in FOUR of those five games, he has given up a first-inning home run. Usually, though, it’s a harmless solo shot. The first time was on April 30, when he served up a fat one to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez and then came back to have one of his best performances of the season, striking out a career-high 12 batters in just six innings.
Today, Ryu wasn’t so fortunate.
There was one key moment in the first inning today that probably changed the course of the inning. After Ryu hit Shane Victorino with one out — it was the first hit batsman of Ryu’s career — he got ahead of Dustin Pedroia 1-2. Pedroia fouled off the next two pitches, but Ryu’s sixth pitch appeared to be waist-high over the outer half, and Pedroia took it. Well, maybe it was a centimeter or two above waist-high, because plate umpire Dan Iassogna called it ball two. Pedroia then hit Ryu’s next pitch on the ground directly at second base, and it handcuffed Mark Ellis. It was a tough play, and Ellis wasn’t charged with an error. But if Ellis had been able to make what would’ve been a strong defensive play on it, it likely would’ve been an inning-ending double play.
Instead, the Red Sox had runners on first and second with one out. Mike Napoli followed with a go-ahead single, and Gomes followed that with the home run.
But really, the pitch to Pedroia that Iassogna didn’t call was the bigger turning point in the inning — even though A.J. Ellis shrugged off the suggestion that the Dodgers were victimized by it.
“It was a good pitch, a quality fastball away,” Ellis said. “I don’t know. Sometimes the ball in that outside area, (Iassogna) was calling it (a ball) both ways, so that’s just part of the game. The umpire did a great job today.”
Ryu, as you may have heard him say in the video I posted earlier, said it isn’t matter of not getting adequately warmed up. He just said he normally uses the first inning to try to get a feel for the strike zone, which necessarily means throwing a lot of strikes — presumably more than in later innings. Both Mattingly and Ellis pointed out that this is a fairly common problem with major league pitchers.
Maybe, but in Ryu’s case, the contrast is glaring. I included some numbers in a previous post today, but as I tend to do sometimes, I slapped them together hastily and missed some key pieces of the math, so those numbers weren’t quite accurate. THESE numbers are absolutely accurate, so here are some Ryu stats from the first innings of his 25 starts vs. some stats from the other 135 2/3 innings he has pitched this season:
First inning (25 innings)
.295 opposing hitters’ average
6 home runs
12 runs, all earned
Second inning and beyond (135 2/3 innings)
.240 opposing hitters’ average
7 home runs
46 runs, 43 earned