‘Submarine’ emerges in Japan as reliever for Golden Eagles

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‘Submarine’ emerges in Japan as reliever for Golden Eagles

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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]

Related Korean Article[연합]
산케이스포츠 '김병현 어깨에 라쿠텐 성패 달렸다'

일본프로야구 시범경기에서 두 경기 연속 무실점 역투를 펼친 김병현(32.라쿠텐 골든 이글스)이 팀의 마무리 투수 후보로 주목받고 있다.

일본 스포츠전문지 '산케이스포츠'는 28일 인터넷판에서 미국프로야구 월드시리즈에서 우승한 경험이 있는 김병현의 어깨에 라쿠텐의 성패가 달렸다며 관심을 보였다.

김병현은 26일 주니치, 27일 니혼햄과의 경기에 잇달아 등판, 각각 1이닝을 삼자범퇴로 막고 실전감각을 조율했다.

이 신문은 높게 들어오던 볼이 사라졌고 빠르게 가라앉는 고속 싱커가 시선을 끌었다고 소개했다.


니혼햄과의 경기에서는 싱커의 구속이 최고 시속 138㎞까지 찍혀 직구(137㎞)보다도 빨랐다.

'산케이스포츠'는 일본 오키나와현 구메지마에서 1차 전지훈련을 치른 김병현이 당시 스프링캠프를 방문한 야마다 히사시(63) 전 주니치 감독에게서 싱커의 비법을 배웠다고 전했다.

야마다 전 감독은 잠수함 투수로서 일본에서 최다인 284승을 거둬 최고 언더핸드 투수로 통한다.

현역 때 스트라이크 존 근처에서 급격하게 가라앉는 싱커를 잘 던졌고 이를 김병현에게 전수한 것으로 보인다.

"4년 만에 제대로 된 볼을 던저보겠다"며 부활을 다짐한 김병현이 직구 구속을 140㎞대 중반까지 끌어올린다면 전매특허인 슬라이더와 새 구종인 싱커의 위력도 살아날 것으로 예상된다.

김병현은 "아직 만족스럽지는 않지만 페이스가 서서히 오르고 있다"면서 "좋은 공을 던지는 횟수도 많아지고 있다"고 말했다.

호시노 센이치 라쿠텐 감독은 "아직 마무리 투수는 정하지 않았다"면서도 "김병현이 좋아지고 있다. 싱커도 더 나아질 것"이라고 전망했다.

이 신문은 '한국형 핵잠수함' 김병현이 라쿠텐의 뒷문을 확실하게 잠근다면 라쿠텐의 '꼴찌 반란'이 현실이 될 수 있다며 김병현이 독수리 군단의 수호신이 될 공산이 커졌다고 내다봤다.

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