Oh hopes fastball will rejuvenate his career

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Oh hopes fastball will rejuvenate his career

Not too many pitchers can get away with one pitch, but Samsung Lions’ closer Oh Seung-hwan counts himself among them.

Almost all of the 29-year-old’s pitches are fastballs. And even though opposing batters can easily predict what’s coming across the plate, the end result is usually a strikeout or ground ball.

Oh, nicknamed “the Stone Buddha” for his emotionless face, is regarded as the top closer in the KBO. He recorded the most saves for three consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2008 and was the Korean Series MVP in his rookie year in 2005. Oh also set the single-season saves record in Asia when he successfully closed 47 games for the Lions in 2006.

But Oh’s success skidded to an end because of injuries in 2009 when he tore his right shoulder muscle. Last year his woes worsened when he suffered a right elbow injury. Over the past two seasons, Oh recorded a mediocre two wins and 23 saves.

This year, however, Oh is looking to bounce back.

He is currently tied for the most saves at eight with Nexen Heroes’ Song Shin-young. The right-handed pitcher has not blown a save so far in 10 appearances while collecting 14 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.

In the game against the Hanhwa Eagles on last Saturday, Oh captured his eighth save without giving up a run in 1 1/3 innings. Eighteen of his 21 pitches were fastballs.

“He has the best fastball I have seen so far this year,” Oh Hoon-gyu, who was Saturday’s umpire, told Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper. “Batters couldn’t touch Oh’s fastball even if he threw is right over the center of the plate.”

Other umpires agree. Na Kwang-nam, who has 20 years of umpiring under his belt, said the Lions pitcher still has the best fastball in the game. “There are many pitchers who throw good fastballs, but Oh’s is the best.”

For KBO hitters, Oh’s fastball is a menace.

“When I swing [at Oh’s fastball] it’s either a foul or a miss,” said KIA Tigers second baseman An Chi-hong. “It feels like his ball rises at the end, so you can’t accurately read the pitch.”

This is even though Oh has lost some velocity over the last few years. At his peak in 2006, he was throwing 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour. But his fastball clocks in at a slightly slower 88 to 90 miles per hour now.

“He is throwing better than last season, but it’s not the same fastball as in years past,” said KBO umpire Choi Gyu-soon. “In my opinion, his has the third best fastball in the league. It’s not even close to what it was a few years ago.”

Oh is well aware that his fastball is not as fast as it once was, but he says that it will continue to be his bread and butter.

“[When I throw a fastball] I never think about how batters will react,” Oh said. “I will continue to stick with my fastball.”


By Kim Woo-chul, Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]

오승환, 5경기 연속 세이브 성공 공동 1위

삼성 마무리 투수 오승환(29)이 5경기 연속 세이브에 성공하며 구원 공동 1위를 지켰다.

오승환은 28일 잠실구장에서 치러진 두산과 경기에 8회 2사 후 구원등판해 9회까지 2피안타 1실점으로 막고 팀의 6-3 승리를 마무리 지었다. 오승환은 시즌 7세이브 째를 거둬 역시 이날 세이브를 추가한 송신영(넥센)과 구원왕 경쟁을 계속했다.

오승환은 특히 최근 5경기 연속 세이브를 올리는 상승세를 펼쳤다. 지난 15일 대구 두산전을 시작으로 나가는 경기마다 모두 승리를 지켰다. 아시아 한시즌 최다세이브 기록(47세이브)을 세웠던 2006년과 맞먹는 페이스다. 당시에는 하루 빠른 4월27일에 7번째 세이브를 올렸다.

구위와 몸상태 모두 전성기 때 못지 않는 수준으로 끌어올렸다. 최근 3년간 어깨 부상 후유증으로 주무기인 묵직한 돌직구를 던지지 못했던 것과 완전히 다른 모습으로 돌아왔다. 2006년부터 2008년까지 구원왕 3연패를 했을 때처럼 직구 구속이 140㎞대 후반까지 나왔고 홈플레이트에서 솟아오르는 듯한 위력이 되살아났다.

이날은 5일 만의 등판 탓인지 제구가 다소 흔들렸다. 6-2로 앞선 8회말 2사 1,2루에서 정현욱에게 마운드를 넘겨받은 오승환은 첫 타자 양의지와 진땀나는 풀카운트 승부를 벌였다. 7구째 빠른 직구로 승부를 걸어 결국 좌익수 뜬공으로 처리하고 위기를 넘겼다.

오승환은 9회 선두타자 손시헌을 헛스윙 삼진으로 돌려세운 뒤 정수빈에게 중전 안타를 맞았다. 오재원을 3루 땅볼로 잡았으나 김현수와 8구까지 가는 승부를 벌이다 중전 적시타를 맞고 말았다. 하지만 김동주를 역시 8구까지 가는 승부 끝에 헛스윙 삼진으로 잡아내고 경기를 마쳤다.

전날까지 구원 공동 1위를 달리던 임태훈(두산)이 보는 앞에서 거둔 세이브여서 더욱 짜릿했다. 7세이브 중 라이벌 두산을 상대로만 3개를 따내 천적다운 면모도 이어갔다. 삼성은 이틀 연속 2위 두산을 잡아 승차를 1경기로 좁혔다.

송신영, 임태훈과 벌이는 치열한 구원 경쟁 속에 오승환의 구위 회복은 더욱 빨라질 전망이다. 오승환은 "오늘도 구위는 좋았지만 컨트롤이 평소보다 좋지 않았다"며 "아직 시즌 초이기 때문에 세이브 순위는 중요하지 않다. 기회가 올 때마다 세이브를 따서 팀 성적에 기여하고 싶다"고 말했다.

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