Yang a strong candidate for KBO rookie of year

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Yang a strong candidate for KBO rookie of year

Doosan Bears catcher Yang Eui-ji is making a strong showing for the honor of Korea Baseball Organization Rookie of the Year. As one of the top candidates in the race, Yang solidified his case with a solo homer in the top of the fifth inning against the Samsung Lions Wednesday, with his team nursing a 2-1 lead. The 23-year-old rookie catcher has now hit a home run in three consecutive games to bring his season total to 14.

It’s tops among this year’s crop of rookies in the KBO and he’s now two dingers short of the all-time mark among rookie catchers set by Hong Sung-heun with the Bears in 1999.

Yang has had a strong season but is in peak form these days.

He has produced a hit in each of his past four games and has played a key role in Doosan’s impressive 7-3 record over their past 10 games, with three of those wins coming against the league’s top two teams.

In the Aug. 13 game against the SK Wyverns, Yang 2-for-3 to help his team to a 7-4 win.

Then on Sunday, Yang jump-started a comeback by swatting a solo homerun in the bottom of the fourth inning with his team trailing the Wyverns 6-5.

The Bears would go on to win the game 9-5 and take two consecutive games from the Wyverns, who boast the best record in the league.

Yang then hit a game-tying solo homer in the bottom of the second inning in a losing cause against the Samsung Lions on Tuesday. Then, he smacked out a solo shot and collected a double to collect three RBI in the Bears’ 10-1 thrashing of the Lions Wednesday.

For the third-place Bears, winning three of four against the Wyverns and second-place Lions was crucial in their effort to move up in the league standings. As of Thursday, Doosan is 62-2-42 and are now trailing the Lions by two and a half games.

Yang, who has played a crucial role in Doosan’s recent success, has improved his batting average to .275 and has also posted 54 RBI. He is ahead of Oh Ji-hwan of the LG Twins, who has posted .252, 12 home runs and 48 RBI. Samsung’s Oh Jung-bok, who is batting .280 with seven home runs and 36 RBI, has been relegated to reserve roles in recent games.

“When considering that Yang is a catcher, he truly stands out among his peers,” said Lee Byung-hoon, a KBS baseball analyst.

Yang is also ahead of his peers in terms of consistency. As the starting catcher for the Bears, Yang has started 102 games this season. Catcher is often considered the most demanding position in the game but among rookies, Yang has appeared in the most games this year.

Yang did stumble out of the gate to start the second half of the season after the All-Star break, producing three hits in 10 games. Veteran Choi Seung-hwan took over behind the plate for the Bears for a few games and with several games rained out, Yang has returned rejuvenated.

“I’ve tweaked my batting stance and now rest the bat on my shoulder before starting my swing,” said Yang. “I’ve been hitting better ever since. I want to maintain my streak and would like to help my team regain second place in the league standings.”

By Kim Dong-hwan, Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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