LOS ANGELES -- Hyun-Jin Ryu understands what's at stake for the Dodgers as he prepares for his second start of the postseason.
With the Dodgers trailing the Cardinals in the National League Division Series, 2-0, Ryu gets the ball Monday in a pivotal Game 3 (5 p.m. PT, TBS).
"There's always additional pressure when you come back home down 2-0," Ryu said Sunday. "I think all of us understand that. We are professionals. We're going to do the best we can to go out there and put our best game forward. Now it's a five-game series. We need to win four out of the five, and we'll do the best we can to do that."
Ryu struggled in his introduction to October baseball last week in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Braves, charged with four runs on six hits in three innings before the Dodgers' offense rescued him in a 13-6 triumph. The left-hander admitted he was nervous heading into that start and hopes to have a better handle on his emotions against the Cardinals.
"I do believe being completely nerve-free is also a bad thing as a competitor, so I think it's finding a good balance between how anxious and how nervous I have to be tomorrow," Ryu said.
The first inning was a challenge for Ryu throughout the regular season -- he allowed 17 earned runs (5.10 ERA) -- and that did not change against the Braves, as he gave up two runs in the first inning to put the Dodgers in an early hole. Ryu said that would be an area of emphasis heading into Game 3.
Key stat: Opponents hitting .067 with bases loaded
Key stat: Won 10 road games in regular season
At Dodger Stadium
2013: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.32 ERA Career: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.32 ERA
2013: Did not pitch Career: 5 GS (6 G), 1-2, 5.16 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.86 ERA Career: 10 GS (13 G), 4-4, 3.10 ERA
Loves to face: Carlos Beltran, 0-for-3 Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 2-for-3
Loves to face: Mark Ellis, 1-for-12, 2 K Hates to face: Andre Ethier, 10-for-33, 3 HR
Why he'll win: Had success against Cardinals in regular season
Why he'll win: Won his last three postseason starts
Pitcher beware: Showed nerves in postseason debut
Pitcher beware: Dodgers are dangerous at home
Bottom line: Forget about rough outing in NLDS
Bottom line: Set the tone early on the road
Manager Don Mattingly, though, believes Ryu's fastball location will be paramount for success.
"When he's pitching off of that and getting his fastball in that downhill plane, he's been effective against everybody," Mattingly said. "But if he's not locating the fastball, he's not a power, power pitcher from the standpoint of the high 90s or anything. So his location is going to be really important."
Ryu lasted just three innings in the NLDS, but he said getting deep into Monday's game is not the highest priority.
"I believe that in the postseason, pitching long into games is not as important as making quality pitches from the very beginning," Ryu said. "I'm not going to focus too much on the length of my outing. Truthfully, if I'm out there for five innings I'd be more than happy. But I'm going to focus on making quality pitches from the first pitch tomorrow."
While Ryu appeared rattled against the Braves, the Dodgers feel certain he will thrive against the Cardinals.
"He seems to raise his level when his back is against the wall," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "I think he's going to throw the ball extremely well in Game 3."
This isn't the first time Ryu will be looking to prove skeptics wrong, either.
A seven-time All-Star in the Korea Baseball Association, Ryu signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Dodgers last December. Initially, the outlook wasn't that great, as Ryu looked nothing like an eight-figure pitcher when he reported to Spring Training.
"To be completely honest, we were kind of concerned," Ellis said. "He didn't have great energy, and his early work didn't look good."
The Dodgers quickly learned that Ryu, 26, completely knew what he was doing. He wasn't preparing for his April 3 regular-season debut against San Francisco. He was gearing up for much more than that.
"What we didn't realize was this guy was building up for a Major League season," Ellis said. "He didn't come here to make first impressions. He was here for the long haul."
Ryu's steadiness demonstrated that. After finishing 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA in six April starts, Ryu recorded month-by-month ERAs of 2.38 in May, 2.70 in June, 4.50 in July, 2.61 in August and 2.88 in September. Even when Ryu's ERA rose in July, he was 3-0 in four outings.
That gives Ryu confidence heading into Game 3.
"I believe we can come back and be the team that we're supposed to be," he said.