Jung says he’s not an eight-hit wonder

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Jung says he’s not an eight-hit wonder


Jung Sung-hoon

Some fans worried about how he would handle his new role as the cleanup hitter, but the LG Twins’ Jung Sung-hoon has already proven himself as the leader of the Seoul ball club’s offense.

In 16 games in April, Jung belted seven home runs and maintained a .310 batting average with 16 RBI, earning him the Korea Baseball Organization’s monthly MVP award.

Jung’s monthly home run total tied for first in the KBO with the Nexen Heroes’ Kang Jung-ho, while his RBI and slugging percentage were third-best.

The 32-year-old third baseman’s performance last month was a big factor in the Twins’ success. The ball club had been tabbed as a bottom-cellar KBO team at the beginning of the season, but the Twins have performed well since opening pitch.

But on the day that Jung was named the KBO MVP for April, he said he wasn’t feeling celebratory because his maternal grandmother, who had supported him since his childhood, passed away.

After graduating from Gwangju Cheil High School, Jung made his professional debut in 1999 with his hometown club, the Haitai Tigers (now the Kia Tigers). He then played for the Hyundai Unicorns (now the Nexen Heroes) from 2003 before coming to the Seoul-based Twins as a free agent on a four-year deal in 2008.

Until this season, Jung was usually the fifth batter in the lineup. Historically, he hasn’t been a slugger. His most home runs in a single season is just 17, and that happened seven years ago. His career batting average is 0.286. Even Twins manager Kim Ki-tae said before the season that he doesn’t expect home runs from Jung, but rather wants him to extend innings and bring in runners when needed.

However, Jung has far exceeded expectations and is now trying to prove that he isn’t a one-hit wonder in April. On Tuesday, the right-handed batter hit a two-run shot against the Hanwha Eagles and led his club to a 4-2 victory. It signalled that Jung expects to extend his impressive performance into May.

In an interview with Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s sports daily, Jung was modest and humble about his performance, saying that he will keep trying to do his best.

Q. Do people look at you differently after such an impressive month?

A. When I first became the fourth batter in the lineup, I heard people saying that the Twins really lack a proper cleanup hitter. But now I even hear people saying that I’m “going crazy.” They say that position determines how people perform, and I’m starting to feel that.

Do you feel any pressure being the fourth batter in the lineup?

If I didn’t perform well, I would have a lot of stress, but since it’s going well, the pressure’s gone.

Why did you switch to heavier bats?

I just changed it in hopes of performing better, and so far it’s working. When I first used lighter bats, I had good timing when hitting the ball, but I mostly hit the upper part of the baseball. After I changed the length of the bat from 33.5 inches to 34 inches and the weight from 870 grams (1.9 pounds) to 920 grams, I’m hitting the center of the ball. I don’t especially feel that it’s much heavier.

Your celebration after hitting home runs, which consists of you pointing to the dugout, has created a buzz among fans. What do you think?

I just do it for fun since our team atmosphere is good and there are not many funny things to do during the game. You know our manager is also performing some interesting celebrations, right? I just tried it a few times in the beginning, but nowadays I keep doing it, and doing it more than I expected.

Do you think you can break your personal best home run record in a single season?

I don’t know - you will know that after the season is over. I don’t try to think of breaking that. If I was a home run hitter, I would. But you know I’m not that kind of hitter.

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