For pitchers, recovery between starts is crucial

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For pitchers, recovery between starts is crucial

In discussing what makes a good pitcher, baseball people often cite good control or a powerful fastball. However, there is one other thing players care a lot about: recovery after pitching. Experts said pitchers who recover well often are consistent performers who have long careers.

Yoo Hee-kwan started for the Doosan Bears on Sunday against the Hanwha Eagles at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul and recorded the first shutout of his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) career. The 28-year-old’s fastball averaged only in the mid-130’s (about 84 miles per hour), but with slick control (he did not walk a batter) and mixing up his pitches he was able to blank the Eagles on seven hits.

The southpaw threw 117 pitches, a season high for him, just four days after throwing 102 on May 5 against the LG Twins.

“Because my speed isn’t fast, I think there’s not much of a burden on my shoulder,” Yoo said in an interview with Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, on Monday. “I haven’t yet felt a lot of fatigue, even the day after I threw more than 100 pitches. In addition, this time I had the shutout and I felt so good, that’s why I didn’t feel tired.”

Usually, managers use four- or five-day rotations for their starting staff, and each pitcher has his own methods of recovery and preparation.

“I do a lot of running drills the day after a start,” said Yoo. “I also stretch and take massages. My performance in the next game really depends on how my shoulder has recovered.”

Bears ace Dustin Nippert, who has been in the double digits in wins since making his KBO debut in 2011, also begins with running drills the day after pitching. On the second day, the 34-year-old American plays long-toss to keep loose and maintain arm strength. On the third day, he throws in a bullpen session.

Pitchers who are not accustomed to being starters sometimes have difficulty recovering. Lotte Giants starter Lee Sang-hwa, who was in a starting rotation for the first time this season, lasted only 1 1/3 innings in each of his past two starts against the SK Wyverns on May 5 and NC Dinos on May 10.

The 27-year-old right-hander usually has a fastball in the neighborhood of 140 kilometers per hour, but his velocity was down the past two games. Lee blames it on accumulated fatigue since he joined the starting rotation.

“This is the first time in my professional career that I have been a regular in the starting rotation,” he said in an interview May 8. “I can feel the speed of my shoulder recovery is slowing. Before the Wyverns game on May 5, my arms were still stiff and even if I have a massage, the fatigue remains.”

Lee was sent to the minors on May 11 after Giants manager Lee Jong-woon decided to give him a rest.

KBO managers say quick recovery is crucial if young pitchers hope to stay in the starting. Nexen Heroes manager Yeom Kyung-yup is using six players in the role of fifth starter.

“For sophomore pitcher Ha Young-min, I will use him about 14 times, managing his condition,” Yeom said. Rotation pitchers usually get 25 to 27 starts per season.

The schedules of other young Heroes pitchers like Kim Tae-hyung and Kim Hae-soo are also likely to be decided depending on their recovery.

“How your shoulder recovers is a gift, something you’re born with,” said Jung Min-chul, a former pitcher for the Hanwha Eagles and Yomiuri Giants who now works as an MBC Sports+ commentator. “Ryu Hyun-jin had a flexible body and even if he pitched a lot, he had less damage to the shoulder. But what’s really important is what you do the day after your start.”

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