‘Submarine’ emerges in Japan as reliever for Golden Eagles

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‘Submarine’ emerges in Japan as reliever for Golden Eagles


Kim Byung-hyun

The “Submarine” is emerging after a three-year absence from professional baseball.

Kim Byung-hyun, a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher who helped the Arizona Diamondbacks reach the World Series in 2001, is back and pitching with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball league after signing a one-year deal with the club in January worth 33 million yen ($401,000).

The 32-year-old righty with a submarine delivery made a good first impression in preseason play by pitching clean eighth innings on Saturday and Sunday against the Chunichi Dragons and the Nippon Ham Fighters, respectively, and that could go a long way for his chances at grabbing the team’s closer role.

“It seems that Kim Byung-hyun is pitching really well,” Rakuten coach Senichi Hoshino told Japanese newspapers this week.

Said Rakuten’s pitching coach Yoshinori Sato: “Kim Byung-hyun keeps getting better.”

Japanese newspapers, including Sankei Sports and Daily Sports, called the two preseason games a likely deciding factor for the candidates competing to be Rakuten’s closer.

Manabu Mima, another possible Golden Eagles closer, had a rough outing against Chunichi on Saturday, allowing two hits and one walk in the ninth inning.

After the game, Hoshino said it would be difficult for Mima to be the closer if he continues to pitch poorly, Japanese newspapers reported.

Kim is the only Korean - among active and retired players - with a World Series ring, something fellow former Major Leaguer Park Chan-ho, who also debuts in Japan this year, has not achieved.

Kim recorded 19 saves with the Diamondbacks when they won the World Series in 2001. He was also on the Boston Red Sox in 2004 when they made a historic run to win the Fall Classic, though his role was limited. Kim’s best year might have been 2002, when he finished with an 8-3 record, 36 saves and a 2.04 ERA and was selected to play in the All-Star Game. Kim last pitched in the MLB in 2007.

But Kim’s past is only pressure now, as he tries to prove he can be as good as he used to be.

Some sources close to the pitcher said he was so focused on training that his coaches asked him to take things easy. During spring camp, he threw more than 100 pitches a day.

“I am working hard to hurl the right balls,” Kim said. “My goal is to find the form that I had in my first and second year with the MLB. My pitching then was good, but since then it has gotten out of balance.”

Observers say his velocity is improving, particularly his fastball, which clocked in at 144 kilometers (89 miles) per hour against Chunichi, 10 kilometers per hour faster than the fastballs he threw just a month earlier.

Kim simply said it’s just one of the many steps needed in order to make a comeback.

“There are many areas where I need to improve, like lower-body muscle and balance,” Kim said. “I still have a long way to go.

“When it comes to baseball, I am trying to be perfect,” Kim added. “I am doing my best not to be humiliated.”

By Huh Jin-woo, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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