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Korean major leaguers taking spring training by storm

Mar 11,2020
Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays, left, and Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals throw a pitch during spring training games. Both pitchers tossed scoreless innings. [REUTERS/YONHAP]
Two Korean major league pitchers are continuing their spring training campaigns strong. Both Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals made their starts in spring training games and managed to toss scoreless innings.

In his second spring training start as a Toronto Blue Jay in Florida on Monday, left-hander Ryu held the Tampa Bay Rays scoreless over four and one-third innings. He struck out four and didn’t walk anybody.

In other words, it was just another day at the office for the 32-year-old Korean hurler.

“I had good control with all my pitches, and I didn’t issue any walks,” Ryu told Korean media at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida. “Though I gave up an extra-base hit [a Willy Adames double in the second], I think things are going really well as far as building up my pitch count and innings.”

Ryu threw 44 of his 66 pitches for strikes. And because he doesn’t light up the radar gun and overpower hitters, Ryu has to rely on his command and pitch sequence to keep hitters off balance.

And Monday’s outing was vintage Ryu, who led the majors with a 2.32 ERA last year while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He induced five groundouts, got a couple of infield pop flies and survived four 3-2, full-count battles, getting two strikeouts, one groundout and one flyout from those situations.

Ryu said if he had to nitpick himself, he could have located his fastballs a little better.

“I have a couple of starts remaining [in spring training], and I need to improve my fastball command,” said Ryu, who will most likely get the opening day assignment against the Boston Red Sox on March 26 in Toronto.

Ryu threw 54 pitches through four innings, just short of his targeted range of 65 to 70. So he came back out for the fifth and needed 10 pitches to retire Michael Perez on a grounder to first.

He was lifted to a rousing standing ovation from the Jays’ faithfuls at TD Ballpark, and Ryu said he could get used to such receptions.

“It always feels great to receive a standing O,” Ryu said with a smile. “I’ll try to get more of them during the regular season.”

Kim also continued his strong performance in spring training so far. Unlike Ryu, Kim’s been competing for a starting spot in the Cardinals’ rotation. And he may be one step closer now.

A quick glance at the starting lineup for the Minnesota Twins in a spring training game against the Cardinals in Florida on Monday (local time) would have struck fear into most pitchers.

There was Max Kepler, who had 36 homers in 2019, leading off. He was followed by Josh Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP who had 37 dingers with the Atlanta Braves a year ago. Batting cleanup was Nelson Cruz, who led the Twins last year with 41 homers. Eddie Rosario (32 homers) and Miguel Sano (34) were hitting fifth and sixth.

But the Cardinals’ Korean starter Kim couldn’t care less about those slugging numbers. It’s not that he doesn’t respect those hitters; Kim just prefers to keep the focus on himself.

And that approach worked. Kim tossed three shutout innings, striking out four and giving up just two singles in the Cardinals’ tidy 3-0 win at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Florida.

“Whether it’s the regular major league hitters or reserves in the opposing lineup, it doesn’t really matter to me,” Kim told Korean reporters afterward. “What I do on the mound and how I feel out there is more important.”

Kim has yet to give up a run in eight innings across four appearances - two in starts and two in relief - this spring. Kim has been particularly effective in changing speeds with his slider, and he’s been throwing the curveball more, after building a reputation as a fastball-slider hurler over 13 years in Korea.

Some of his fastballs in this one had some cutting action, and Kim said it wasn’t necessarily by design.

“In Korea, I threw mostly straightaway fastballs, and they would get barreled a lot,” Kim said. “But today, those pitches cut quite a bit, and I got a lot of soft contact. It’s become a good weapon for me.”

Kim is battling for a rotation spot at the start of the regular season and remains on a starter’s schedule. He said his next appearance should come on Saturday.

He had a hectic week last week, when he had a scheduled start scratched because of mild groin soreness and then shuffled to the bullpen the day before his rescheduled start. That bullpen appearance came last Thursday, and Kim was pitching on three days’ rest against the Twins.

“I also had a bullpen session in between, and so I was a bit fatigued today,” Kim said. “Considering the circumstances, my performance wasn’t that bad.”

Yonhap



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