The KIA Tigers were all smiles after the first quality start of rookie left-handed pitcher Yoon Young-cheol, the ‘Baby Tiger’. Yoon’s dominant performance and the team’s late-game batting performance helped them to win the game. However, the shaky pitching of closer Jung Hae-young was still a cause for concern, as his average velocity dropped to 141 km/h. When will he rebound?
On May 24, KIA won 4-2 against the Hanwha Eagles in Daejeon. With the victory, KIA improved to 19 wins and 19 losses on the season.
Against Hanwha, the game was tied at 0-0 until the fourth inning. After missing a chance to take the lead with runners on first and second in the top of the first inning, KIA missed another chance to take the lead in the top of the fourth inning when Ko Jong-wook singled to left field and was tagged out at home by second baseman Choi Hyung-woo.
The first run came from Byun Woo-hyuk against Chinjeong. In the top of the fifth inning, Byun hit a four-pitch 136 km/h fastball from Hanwha starter Jang Min-jae for a massive 125-meter solo home run to left field.
Meanwhile, KIA starter Yoon Young-cheol was on a roll. Yoon induced groundouts in the first and third innings of the game. In the bottom of the fourth inning, with the bases loaded, he induced Kim In-hwan to ground out to first base.
After ending the fifth inning with a clean triple play, Yoon took the mound in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Yoon gave up a game-tying solo home run to Chae Eun-sung. Yoon then gave up a walk to Noh Si-hwan, but struck out Choi Jae-hoon to earn his first career quality start.
In the top of the seventh, the KIA offense failed to produce a run, ending Yoon’s chances of a third win of the season. In the top of the eighth, Socrates hit a 135 km/h two-seam fastball off reliever Kang Jae-min for a huge two-run homer to right-center field that traveled 125 meters. It proved to be the game-winning hit. KIA sealed the win in the top of the ninth inning when Ryu Ji-hyuk hit a wedge single with runners on first and second.
In the bottom of the ninth, Jeong Jung-young struck out the leadoff batter, Chae Eun-sung. However, a four-pitch, 140 km/h fastball to the next batter, Noh Si-hwan, led to a 120-meter solo home run to left field.
Jung gave up a seven-pitch walk to Choi Jae-hoon, who followed with a single to right. He then threw a 132 km/h forkball to Kim In-hwan, who hit a huge fly ball to right field. The pitch was caught in front of the warning track. The KIA bench and Jeong Jung-young breathed a sigh of relief. Jung got pinch-hitter Oh Sun-jin to ground out to shortstop to secure his fifth save of the season.
On this day, KIA had plenty to smile about as ‘Baby Tiger’ Yoon Young-cheol made his first quality start. Now, with one more rest in the starting rotation, Yoon has proven himself to be a resource that can go up to six innings as a ‘fifth starter’. This will help the team’s mound operation in the coming season.
However, the poor performance of the closer, Jung Hae-young, still left a bitter aftertaste in the team’s victory. This season, Jung’s average fastball velocity dropped to 141.2 km/h. When you consider the pitches he threw in the 2022 season (144.6 km/h) and 2021 season (144 km/h), the drop in velocity is clear.
His pitching metrics have also clearly deteriorated. His season WHIP is 1.50, up from last year’s (1.29). The same goes for strikeouts per nine innings (6.91 to 4.11) and walks per nine innings (2.89 to 3.52). The percentage of runners left on base also spiked (17.7% to 50%).
Still, the Kia bench is giving Jung a solid vote of confidence rather than ordering him to retool in the secondary. Head coach Kim Jong-kook has said that he will reappoint Jung Hae-young, who has been the closer for the past two years.
Recently, Kim said, “Even experienced pitchers like (Jeon) Sang-hyun and (Jang) Hyun-sik are not in good shape. (Choi) Ji-min has good pitches, but he lacks experience, so it’s not easy to entrust him with the closer’s job. In the end, I think (Chung) Hae-young will have to do it.” 스포츠토토
With such a strong vote of confidence from Kim, Jeong will need to show that his rebounding pitches can be used to stabilize the closer position. With two blown saves already under her belt, Jeong will need to be on top of her game to keep the team’s momentum going. It will be interesting to see if Jung can recapture the momentum that made her the first and youngest pitcher in Tiger history to reach 30 saves in back-to-back seasons.