Yoo finds success in slowing down
After letting the bases get fully loaded against Seoul rival LG Twins on Tuesday, the 29-year-old struck out Yang Suk-hwan, Yoo Kang-nam and Hwangmok Chi-seung in a row.
These days, his fastballs rarely top 135 kilometers per hour. But with his impressive control and ability to change up his speed, Yoo is evolving into a pitcher that batters can’t easily shrug off.
“What may be different from the past is my ability to keep my composure on the mound,” he said.
With no big injuries reported so far, Yoo is known for his agility and durability, throwing an average of 106 pitches per game and taking 80 innings this season, the most among Bears pitchers. On May 10 against the Hanwha Eagles, Yoo had the first shut-out of his career.
After graduating from Chung-Ang University, he joined the Bears as the 42nd pick of the draft and wasn’t a fan favorite. Many believed the stereotype that a pitcher without a fastball is destined to fail.
In his debut year, Yoo played 16 games - marking a 4.05 ERA with no wins or losses - and then joined the Sangmu baseball team for his military service in 2010.
But Yoo shined with Sangmu, and managed to become a regular member for the Bears in 2013, playing both as a reliever and starter. He went 10-7 with a 3.53 ERA in 41 games. Last year, Yoo cemented his position, going 12-9 with 4.42 ERA in 30 starts.
While lefty pitchers usually throw better against lefty batters, the opposite has been true for Yoo. Until last year, his batting average for lefty batters was .337, significantly higher than his average for right-handers, at .259.
“I think he’s really found confidence in pitching outside changeups for lefty hitters,” said Skysports analyst Kim Jin-wook, who was the Bears manager from 2012 to 2013. “Yoo is a really smart guy who changes his pitching patterns during games. He will deliver better performances in the future.”
With his cheerful demeanor and sense of humor, Yoo has become a favorite among Bears fans. Now, he has his eyes set on becoming a KBO All-Star for the first time.
In the KBO’s list of All-Star candidates for the “Dream All-Star Team” - which will be composed of players from the Doosan Bears, Samsung Lions, SK Wyverns, Lotte Giants and KT Wiz - Yoo’s name appears in the starting pitchers category. The voting results will come out on July 6.
“If I can’t make it through a fans’ vote, I really want to play in the All-Star Game with a manager’s recommendation,” he said.
BY KIM WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]