Not so long ago, Kim Kwang-hyun of the SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization was one of the country’s premier pitchers.
His career has been derailed by assorted injuries in the past three years, but Kim, 24, said earlier this week that he will not dwell on his painful past.
In a three-year stretch from 2008 to 2010, Kim was one of the most dominant starters in the KBO and was voted the league MVP in 2008.
He and Ryu Hyun-jin, now the lefty starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, often found themselves at the top of meaningful pitching categories.
SK pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun (Yonhap News)
And over the same three-year span, Kim enjoyed more postseason success than Ryu, then, of the lowly Hanwha Eagles, as his Wyverns won the Korean Series titles in 2008 and 2010.
Kim’s career has gone downhill since. He suffered a mild stroke after the 2010 playoffs, and was later slowed by injuries to his shoulder and elbow.
After leading the KBO with 17 wins in 31 starts in 2010, Kim won a combined 12 games in 33 appearances in 2011 and 2012, with an ERA hovering above 4.00 in each of those two seasons. Kim also failed to pitch more than 100 innings in those seasons.
He began his 2013 season in mid-April, about two weeks after the opening weekend, after rehabbing his shoulder. The Wyverns had tried to ease Kim back to action as he struggled with his command.
And then Tuesday came. Against the Doosan Bears, Kim threw a season-high 114 pitches over seven innings, holding the opponents to two earned runs as the Wyverns won 7-5.
Kim improved to 2-3 with a 3.78 ERA. Those numbers may not be impressive for the former MVP, but Kim told reporters that he is happy to be where he is now.
“I feel great not just because I won the game, but because I am pain-free,” he said. “In the past three years since I’ve been injured, this is the best I’ve felt.”
Kim has largely been a shell of his former self. In 2008, only his second KBO season, Kim won the MVP by leading the league with 16 wins and 150 strikeouts, and finishing second with a 2.39 ERA.
Then in 2010, Kim led the KBO with 17 wins, and was second to Ryu in ERA with 2.37 and in strikeouts with 183.
Kim admitted he has felt the burden of expectations and said he knows he hasn’t lived up to them of late ― not that it bothers him much.
“I think it’s wrong to try to go back to the past,” he said. “I still hear a lot of comparisons with my earlier seasons, but I think it’s more important to pitch well from here on. I think I am pitching as well as I ever have.” (Yonhap News)