After MVP season, Tigers’ ace looking for more

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After MVP season, Tigers’ ace looking for more

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Gwangju Kia Tigers pitcher Yoon Suk-min reacts after pitching against the Seoul Nexen Heroes in this Aug. 21, 2011, file photo. Photo by Chung Si-chong

For pitchers, it doesn’t get much better than the 2011 season Gwangju Kia Tigers’ Yoon Suk-min enjoyed. The 26-year-old starter was named the most valuable player in the Korea Baseball Organization and won the Golden Glove for pitchers.

Yoon led the KBO regular season in wins (17), ERA (2.45), strikeouts (178) and winning percentage (.773). He was the first to top four pitching categories since Sun Dong-yol, the Tigers’ new manager, did so in 1991.

Thanks to his monstrous performance, Yoon’s salary has doubled. On Monday, the day when the Tigers left for its spring training in Arizona, he inked a deal that gives him a salary of 380 million won ($333,000) for this year, exactly twice his previous salary.

It was the largest raise for a pitcher in franchise history. The previous record was held by Yoo Dong-hoon, who received a 120 million won raise from his 900 million won salary in 2010.

Yoon made his professional debut in 2005 after graduating from Yatap High School in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. In his first two seasons, he played as a reliever and closer, but stepped up to a starting role in 2007.

It wasn’t a smooth ride to his MVP performance.

In his debut season as a starter, Yoon won seven games but suffered 18 losses - the most in the league that year and fourth most in KBO history. But in 2008, the right-hander bounced back and went 14-5 with a 2.33 ERA. He took the ERA title that year and also helped Korea win the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

From 2009-10, Yoon had a difficult time dealing with injuries during the regular season, although his club won the Korea Series and Yoon was part of Korea’s runner-up finish in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and gold medal performance in the 2010 Asian Games.

Yoon pitched 119.5 innings in 2009 and only 101 innings in 2010 with a mediocre 15-7 record and 3.64 ERA in those two seasons. But last year his career came together and Yoon brushed aside any questions of his ability to be a starting ace for the Tigers.

Before leaving for Arizona for spring training, Yoon said to Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper, that he will try to pitch at least 180 innings this upcoming season. And with a new salary and redefined goals, Yoon said he is eager to get in top fitness and cement his name as one of the franchise’s best players on the mound.

Q. Are you satisfied with your new salary?

A.I know I didn’t get the best deal for players in their eighth year [Samsung Lions’ Lee Seung-yeop received 410 million in 2002], but the club offered me a good amount of money. I’m satisfied with it.

Now that you received a big salary, do you feel you have more responsibility to perform at a high level?

Money is not important and I think the important moment starts from now. As I’m going to receive a lot of money, I have to play big role for my team.

You pitched a career-best 172 innings last season, but manager Sun said you should pitch at least 200 innings this season. What do you think?

I think I have to agree [laughs]. I know last season I threw the most innings in a season since I debuted, but I don’t think I went too far. For this season, I think I will be able to play more than last season because the team is expected to go with a five-day rotation, but the system is what I wanted before.

Mathematically, I will be able to play five more games than last year. I want to throw at least 180 innings.

But you pitched so much last season. Aren’t you tired?

To tell the truth, I’m still a little bit tired, so I won’t overwork myself during our spring training. I could get injured if I get greedy during training. I’m looking at the big picture when training, including preseason games, and I will try to work step by step so that I can be in the best shape possible when the season begins.

Is there any special training for you in order to increase stamina on the mound?

Even if I make plans, they will change during spring training. So, right now, I’m just going to look at the big picture and then think about the details. It would be good if I could train more “naturally.” Not burning out, but steadily.

The Tigers said that the club is going to strengthen its bullpen. What do you think?

As a starter, I always trusted our bullpen. I don’t have thoughts that I will be more confident if the bullpen gets stronger. But if our bullpen pitchers do well and the team prevents come-from-behind losses, it will be good for our team and I think that is a positive move.

What are you trying to improve so that when you step up to the mound in April for the regular season you are prepared?

As the manger said, I will try to pitch more innings. To do so, I will be calm and keep my composure on the mound. I’m now in my eighth year. I will try to mentally control myself and become more comfortable.

Yoon Suk-min

DOB: 07/25/1986

Height / Weight: 184 cm / 85 kg

Position: Pitcher

Clubs: Gwangju Kia Tigers

(2005-present)

Honors: KBO MVP (2011)

Golden Gloves (2011)


By Joo Kyung-don, Yu Seon-ui [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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