In this file photo from Oct. 20, 2021, SSG Landers' manager Kim Won-hyong speaks to reporters prior to a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the NC Dinos at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)
Despite losing three starting pitchers to injuries midseason, the SSG Landers came within a game of making the postseason in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) last year.
But their manager Kim Won-hyong isn't settling for any moral victories. Dropping the regular season finale to the eventual champions KT Wiz cost the Landers a postseason spot, and the loss still gnaws at Kim, who is now entering his second year as the bench boss.
"We missed out on the playoffs after losing the last game of the season, and we really let our fans down," Kim said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. "We will make sure we make up for that disappointment this year."
The Landers, who adopted the new name following an ownership change just prior to the 2020 campaign, got off to a hot start and occupied first place on June 8 at 29-22. But then starters Artie Lewicki, Moon Seung-won and Park Jong-hoon all went down with injuries, and the Landers finished the season at 66-64-14 (wins-losses-ties), half a game back of the Kiwoom Heroes for the wild-card berth.
Kim looked back on his first season as manager and said he regretted not controlling his emotions better at times.
"I was just a beginner, and I ran into a lot of ups and downs," Kim said. "I went through some emotional roller coasters within games, and I want to be better at keeping my emotions in check in the dugout."
On the other hand, Kim said he was proud of the way he kept his team together even as injuries started piling up.
"I wanted to build an environment where players would have fun playing baseball," Kim said. "I plan to give our guys a lot more positive feedback and encouragement."
The Landers hope to have Moon and Park back on the hill by June, following their elbow operations. They signed Ivan Nova, a former 16-game winner for the New York Yankees, to pair him with the returning starter, Wilmer Font.
Kim will need to figure out the back end of the rotation behind Nova and Font, at least until Moon and Park rejoin the team. He has a handful of candidates in mind, and shoring up the bullpen is another item high on the to-do list for him.
The KBO did away with extra innings in the second half of last year, in a bid to squeeze all 144 games into a tight calendar during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams will be playing extra innings this year if they are tied after nine innings.
"Without extra innings last year, we were able to ride our big guns out of the bullpen for the most part," Kim said. "And with extra innings back in play this year, our middle relievers have to step up their game."
Kim, a former pitcher and a long time pitching coach, said strong pitching has to be the foundation of any playoff team.
"We were able to pull off a lot of comeback wins thanks to our bats, but hitting can come and go," Kim said. "You have to have a stable pitching staff to get through a season. If we can hang tough in the first half and get some of the guys back for the second half, then we should be able to reach the postseason this year." (Yonhap)