After ugly year, it’s home sweet home

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After ugly year, it’s home sweet home


Yoon Suk-min of the Kia Tigers pitches in the sixth inning of a preseason game against the LG Twins at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Sunday. [NEWSIS]

Despite his disappointing season in the United States, Kia Tigers pitcher Yoon Suk-min is trying to show he still has what it takes to rise again in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League.

On Sunday, Yoon pitched one inning during a preseason game against the LG Twins at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field. It was his first action for the Tigers in 527 days.

Although Kia was crushed, 11-1, the 28-year-old right-hander held the Twins scoreless in the sixth inning, throwing 18 pitches and striking out two.

“He showed his confidence,” said Lee Jong-beom, a former Tigers star who now works as an analyst for MBC Sports Plus. “I think his pitching form is more smooth than before.”

Yoon got the first batter he faced, Twins outfielder An Ik-hoon, on a groundout to second base. He proceeded to strike out Choi Seung-joon with a 136-kilometer-per-hour (84 -mile-per-hour) slider, then fanned Kim Yong-eui with a 123-kilometer-per-hour curveball. His fastball was clocked at up to 146 kilometers per hour.

“I was a little nervous taking the mound after such a long time, but my pitches were better than I thought they would be,” he said. “This is my first time pitching at Champions Field, but the mound was better than at Mudeung Baseball Stadium.”

As Yoon headed to the dugout after retiring the side, more than 16,000 fans chanted his name and applauded to welcome the return of their ace.

“I’m thankful for the fans who embraced me,” he said. “I don’t know when I will appear, but I will try to focus on increasing my innings, instead of the number of pitches.”

On March 6, Yoon signed a four-year contract worth 9 billion won ($8 million), including a signing bonus of 4 billion won.

While that ended his hopes of making it to Major League Baseball, his contract is the largest free agent deal in the history of the KBO.

In late 2013, Yoon signed a three-year $5.75 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles, but failed to appear in a single game for the team.

With the Orioles Triple-A club, the Norfolk Tides, he went 4-8 with a 5.74 ERA in 23 games.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Yoon said his goal is to get as much game experience as possible in the preseason.

Before returning to Korea, the pitcher, who has both Olympics and Asian Games gold medals, was training on his own after failing to receive an invitation to spring training from the Orioles.

“I was surprised my fastball was up to 146 kilometers per hour, because last year I was only able to throw 137-8 kilometers per hour in the United States,” he said. “However, I think my sliders still need to improve more.”

Yoon, who made his professional debut in 2005, said he wants to recover his 2011 form. Four years ago, the Yatap High School graduate had his career-best season, winning the MVP award and a Golden Glove.

He went 17-5 with 178 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA in 27 games. In the process, he achieved the triple crpown for pitchers, leading the league in ERA, wins and strikeouts.

“I don’t know how I’ll pitch in the next game, but I will try to focus more and deliver a good performance for fans,” he said.

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