Young hurler shrugs off workload concerns

By Yonhap
  • Published : Aug 4, 2017 - 14:37
  • Updated : Aug 11, 2017 - 13:08

Perhaps the only person not concerned about the workload for Lotte Giants starter Park Se-woong may be Park himself.

There has been much handwringing around the Korea Baseball Organization about the number of pitches for the 21-year-old right-hander. In his third season, and second as a full-time starter, Park has thrown 124 2/3 innings in 20 starts, well on pace to surpass his career high of 139 innings from 27 starts in 2016.

It's not just the number of innings. Park has thrown 100 or more pitches in half of his starts this year. In 2016, he went over the century mark in pitch counts in 11 starts.

That Park hasn't had a victory since June 25 has only fueled criticism that the Giants may be working him too hard. But Park has been regularly pitching on five or six days of rest -- only once has he pitched on four days' rest all season -- and the pitcher himself feels just fine.

"I think a starting pitcher is supposed to toss more than 100 pitches per game," Park said before taking on the LG Twins at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Thursday. He got a no-decision in the Giants' 5-4 loss, after holding the opponents to two earned runs on five hits in six innings. Park needed 97 pitches to get through half-dozen frames.

"That's the mindset I am taking to the mound every game," Park added. "And I've been throwing as much as I have because I felt I was physically capable of doing that, and it didn't put a strain on my body."

In this undated photo provided by the Lotte Giants, right-hander Park Se-woong throws a pitch for the Korea Baseball Organization club. (Yonhap)
Park is averaging 102.5 pitches per start, putting him in sixth place in the KBO. His season high is 117 on June 25 against the Doosan Bears. He tossed 110 or more in three consecutive starts beginning in late May.

A young, bespectacled pitcher throwing his heart out on the mound must be a deja vu all over again for longtime Lotte fans.

In 1984, right-hander Choi Dong-won, then 26, won all four games for the Giants in the Korean Series, as they defeated the Samsung Lions in seven games. Choi made five appearances, going 4-1 over 40 innings with four complete games.

His once-seemingly rubber arm eventually gave out, and Choi, who passed away in 2011, was hardly the same.

The Giants won their second Korean Series in 1992, this time riding the shoulders of right-hander Yeom Jong-seok, a rookie out of high school. Still only 19, Yeom threw 204 2/3 innings in the regular season with 13 complete games and remained a workhorse in the three rounds of the postseason play. Yeom, who won 17 regular season games in 1992, flamed out fast. He was 10-10 in 1993 and never again reached double figures in wins before his career ended in 2008.

Park's season may be eerily reminiscent, though the Giants of 2017 may not make the postseason. Still, could Park suffer the same fate as the two franchise stars before him?

"This is a much different era than when Choi or Yeom pitched, and we have professional trainers taking care of the players," Park said. "They've done a great job with my arm and shoulder, and I don't think fans should be worried."

Park said he's also trying not to get caught up in his win totals. The nine wins are already his career best, but Park hasn't had a win in six straight starts, with one loss and five no-decisions. In that span, he saw his ERA rise from 2.08 to 2.89, still good enough for first place in the KBO.

"I guess I've just been unlucky," he said. "I'd be lying if I said I haven't been disappointed, but I am trying to stay optimistic that win No. 10 will come in my next outing."

Park said the biggest difference this year compared with the past has been his mental strength.

"Last year, when I gave up some early runs, I'd simply collapse right then and there," he said. "Now, my goal is to try to remain in the game as long as I can. I can live with a few runs early as long as I give the team a few innings." (Yonhap)