This photo provided by the Texas Rangers on Feb. 25, 2021, shows the club's South Korean pitcher, Yang Hyeon-jong, throwing in the bullpen at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona. (Texas Rangers)
The Texas Rangers' new South Korean pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong allowed a home run in his spring training debut, a shaky start to his pursuit of a major league job by the end of this month.
Yang served up a solo home run and a single in one inning of relief work against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona, on Sunday (local time). Yang was the last of five Texas pitchers to take the mound in the abbreviated, eight-inning game and was the only one to give up a long ball.
The Rangers hung on to win 4-3, and Yang was even credited with a save.
The 33-year-old left-hander signed a minor league deal with the Rangers in February, with an invitation to spring training, following 14 years with the Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Yang, the 2017 KBO regular season and Korean Series MVP, is locked in a battle for a rotation spot, though the pitcher himself has said he doesn't care about his role as long as he gets to pitch in the majors.
Yang came on in the eighth inning with the Rangers leading 4-2. He struck out Sheldon Neuse swinging on a 2-2 fastball and then retired Omar Estevez on a flyout to center field.
Yang then fell behind 2-1 against DJ Peters, who drove a hanging breaking ball into deep left field for a solo shot.
James Outman followed up with a single against Yang, who got some help from his defense to get out of the inning. Elliot Soto popped one up to shallow left field, and shortstop Yonny Hernandez made a fine running grab for the inning's final out.
Yang said in his postgame Zoom session that he was more excited than nervous about his first spring training outing.
"It was fun to face hitters at the plate and pitch in front of fans," Yang said. "I didn't get off to such a great start, but I think I should be able to really pitch my game the next time. I'll be battling for the next three weeks, and I'll try to get better and better with each game."
Yang admitted that he didn't have his best fastball and he wasn't too pleased with his balance on the mound.
"I left my breaking balls up in the zone," Yang said. "I am not 100 percent accustomed to the new major league ball (which is different from the KBO ball), but I am getting there."
Four other likely starters for the Rangers saw action ahead of Yang in this game: Mike Foltynewicz, Jordan Lyles, Kyle Cody and half-Korean right-hander Dane Dunning. Of the bunch, only Cody (two earned runs on four hits in two innings) and Yang gave up runs.
Though spring training games are often regarded as meaningless, the margin for error is tiny for someone like Yang, who has no prior major league track record and has precious few opportunities to make an impression. (Yonhap)