This Associated Press file photo from March 13, 2021, shows Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers pitching against the Milwaukee Brewers in a major league spring training game at American Family Fields of Phoenix in Phoenix. (Yonhap)
Texas Rangers' South Korean pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong got knocked around in his first spring training start, wobbling in his pursuit of a major league job by the end of camp next week.
Yang allowed two runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona, on Wednesday (local time). Four of those hits and both of the runs came in the second inning.
The left-hander had made three relief appearances and pitched to a 3.00 ERA over six innings prior to this start. That ERA now sits at 3.86.
In the bottom first, Yang pitched around a one-out single by Nick Castellanos. He struck out slugger Eugenio Suarez swinging to end that inning.
The Rangers spotted Yang a 3-0 lead in the top of the second, but the pitcher quickly got himself into trouble in the bottom half of that inning.
After getting one out, Yang surrendered a single, a double and a single, the last a run-scoring job by No. 8 hitter Aristides Aquino.
That cut the Reds' deficit to 3-1. Yang appeared to settle down by striking out Alex Blandino, but then Dee Strange-Gordon doubled in a run to make it a 3-2 affair. The inning mercifully ended for Yang when Aquino got thrown out at home trying to score from first base on Strange-Gordon's hit.
Yang regrouped and threw his first cleaning inning of the day in the third, inducing three straight groundouts against the Reds' three most dangerous hitters: Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Suarez.
Yang came back out to begin the fourth inning, and retired Tucker Barnhart on a groundball before handing things over to Brett de Geus.
Yang said afterward he felt he was well prepared for the game and rated his overall performance as "not bad."
He said his catcher, Jose Trevino, called for breaking balls low in the zone in the second inning but he couldn't command those pitches, which led to four hits by the Reds. In the third inning, Trevino called for more fastballs and Yang said he had better command with them.
"I came away feeling more confident in my fastball," Yang said. "Trevino told me my fastball has good movement, even though I don't throw it all that hard. He said I should throw it with more confidence."
Yang signed a minor league deal with the Rangers in February and received an invitation to spring training for a chance to pitch his way onto the big league roster. He had spent most of his 14 years in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) as a starter, but he could be a swingman for the Rangers this year, someone who can either start or pitch in relief as the situation dictates.
Yang said it doesn't matter to him when he pitches in a game and added, "If I am asked to pitch in middle relief, then I can prepare myself accordingly. That shouldn't be an issue."
Yang thanked his teammates for making him feel comfortable during his first spring training with a major league club and said they have also helped make his transition to life in America easier.
As for breaking camp with the Rangers, Yang said, "Obviously, I'd love to make the team, but it's really up to the coaching staff to make that decision." (Yonhap)