Korean big league pitchers look strong with a week to goWith just over a week to go before the 2021 MLB season begins, all three Korean big league pitchers look to be in good form before the action begins.
There are now five Koreans playing in the majors, pitchers Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals and Yang Hyeon-jong, as well as position players Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays and Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres.
Choo Shin-soo would have rounded off the list, but the major league veteran joined the KBO for the first time in his career this season, and will be debuting with the SSG Landers when the KBO kicks off on the same weekend.
Among the three pitchers, Ryu Hyun-jin is by far the most experienced in the majors, and returns this year for his ninth season in the big leagues. Ryu joined the Toronto Blue Jays last year after seven seasons with the LA Dodgers, but never got to make his debut north of the border due to Covid-19 quarantine restrictions.
Ryu has looked good throughout spring training with the Blue Jays, most recently throwing five shutout innings in a simulated game on Sunday.
In two official spring training exhibition games that Ryu has started in — against the Baltimore Orioles on March 6 and the Detroit Tigers on March 15 — he has walked away with a 1.50 ERA, giving up three hits including one homer. After getting roughed up a little bit in his first start, Ryu returned last week to throw four scoreless innings to take the win.
As the No. 1 pitcher in the Blue Jays rotation, Ryu is expected to start in the Toronto side's opening game against the New York Yankees away at Yankee Stadium on April 2.
But Ryu will have to wait a little longer to throw the ball in Toronto, as the Blue Jays will play their home games at their normal spring training spot, Dunedin Stadium in Florida, for the start of the 2021 season amid Covid quarantine concerns.
Kim Kwang-hyun returns to the Cardinals for his second year in the majors after a strong debut last year that saw him settle into a spot in the starting rotation and earn recognition as one of the top rookies for the 2020 season.
Kim has had a preseason this year, sitting out a week with a back injury, but appears to have bounced back just in time for the season to begin.
Before Kim went out with an injury, things weren't looking great. In his debut spring training game against the New York Mets on March 3, Kim gave up four runs, three earned, in two thirds of an inning. The Korean starter did it again on March 8 against the Miami Marlins, giving up four runs in two and one third innings.
But things are looking up now, as St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said that Kim looked a lot stronger pitching two innings a simulation game on Monday.
"Changeup was really good, slider, effective fastball," Shildt was quoted as saying on MLB.com. "He was good, couple ups and downs, looked sharp."
For Yang, a rookie entering the big leagues for the first time this year, things are also looking good.
Yang signed with the Rangers organization in February on a minor league contract with a chance to compete for a major league spot at the spring training camp.
Yang seems to have pulled that off, appearing in three games for the Rangers during spring training as a bullpen pitcher with a 3.00 ERA, giving up just six hits and two runs in six innings pitched.
That performance is likely enough to secure the 33-year-old's spot in the Rangers bullpen, skipping the minors altogether. Rangers manager Chris Woodward has suggested Yang is likely to be a multi-inning reliever, but there's always a chance he could earn a spot in the future.
"I don't even know what he'd have to do to earn that ... unless he just absolutely dominates the next four, five times he's out there," Woodward was quoted as saying on Yonhap. "It's kind of unfair to the rest of the guys. He's never pitched in a regular season major league game and a lot of other guys have. At some point during the season, he can [start]."
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]