The Korea Herald


Early-season woes continue for 2 S. Korean left-handers in MLB

By Yonhap

Published : May 31, 2021 - 10:05

    • Link copied

In this Associated Press photo, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers pitches in the bottom of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis last Wednesday. (AP-Yonhap) In this Associated Press photo, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers pitches in the bottom of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis last Wednesday. (AP-Yonhap)
For the second time this season, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals and Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers made a start on the same day.

And for the second time, neither of them notched a victory.

In fact, both South Korean left-handers suffered their third consecutive loss.

Kim gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix on Sunday (local time). The Cardinals spotted him a 2-0 lead after two, but Kim couldn't keep his team in front, allowing a run each in the second and third, and two more in the fourth.

He is now 1-3 with a 3.65 ERA. The loss particularly stung, coming as it did against the worst club in the National League that had lost 13 straight games before this one.

Yang got the start against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Sunday and lasted only three innings. He gave up three runs -- one unearned -- on five hits to fall to 0-3 for the year with a 5.53 ERA.

Yang made his first big league start on May 5, the same day that Kim started against the New York Mets. They both settled for no-decisions then.

This was the second crack for Kim and Yang at trying to become the first pair of South Korean starters to win a major league game on the same day since Kim and Toronto Blue Jays' Ryu Hyun-jin in September last year.

They'll obviously have to wait another turn to accomplish that; or, in Yang's case, he will have to stay in the rotation.

Yang, who began the season in the bullpen, is filling in for injured Kohei Arihara in the Rangers' rotation. And the South Korea's grip on that spot is growing more tenuous by the outing. In the start before Sunday's, Yang was roughed up for seven runs against the Los Angeles Angels, the most runs allowed by a Texas starter this year.

And in Seattle, Yang didn't produce the kind of bounce-back performance that he needed to earn himself an extended stay in the rotation. Yang gave up a run right out of the gate in the bottom first and two more in the third. All three runs were driven in by No. 5 hitter Ty France.

Yang struggled to put away hitters, as he needed 70 pitches to work three innings. The Mariners took 41 swings and missed only seven times. They fouled off 22 pitches and put 12 balls in play.

"I am disappointed that I didn't go deeper into the game, and I fell behind on a lot of hitters," Yang said in his postgame Zoom interview. "They fouled off a lot of pitches. I wouldn't necessarily say they were swinging the bat well. I just have to be better with my command."

Yang has done far better in relief outings than in starts: 3.55 ERA in 12 2/3 innings as a reliever but 7.20 ERA in 15 innings in starts. Moving Yang back to the bullpen may be the sensible move for the Rangers, who will likely welcome back another injured starter, Kyle Gibson, later this week.

Asked to evaluate himself so far in his first major league season, Yang said his stats are "too embarrassing for any sort of self-assessment."

"I've always been a pitcher who wants to eat up innings, dating back to my time in Korea," the 14-year veteran of the Korea Baseball Organization said. "I've had some difficulties in the big leagues so far, but I've been able to learn a great deal along the way."

In Phoenix, Kim didn't take advantage of an easy matchup against a reeling Diamondbacks team mired in a 13-game losing skid.

Ketel Marte did most of the damage against Kim, delivering a solo shot in the third and a two-run single in the fourth.

In that fourth inning duel, Kim went up 0-2 in the count against Marte, who later fouled off three pitches and laid off three breaking balls to work the count to full. Marte then connected on Kim's third slider of the at-bat for a two-run single.

"I wanted to get ahead in the count with some inside pitches and then get him out on a slider. He was really patient there," Kim said of Marte, who batted 5-for-15 with four RBIs in the four-game set against St. Louis. "I tried to be careful with him because he'd been swinging the bat well the whole series. I shouldn't have put runners on for Marte."

Arizona's first run came in the second inning, when Kim couldn't get past the bottom third of the order.

With two outs, he gave up a two-out triple to light-hitting No. 7 hitter Nick Ahmed, who entered this game batting only .206. That triple was Ahmed's first this season and only his 12th extra-base hit in 45 games.

Then No. 8 hitter Tim Locastro, who carried a .202 batting average into this one, drove in Ahmed with a single to right.

Kim should have been able to put out the fire right then and there, but instead fell behind 2-1 on Locastro and then hung a curveball for the RBI hit. Given that the opposing pitcher, Matt Peacock, was on deck and the first base was open, Kim didn't have to give Locastro anything to hit.

The nine hits Kim allowed were his career high, and he attributed that to leaving too many pitches in the middle of the zone.

Kim's bread-and-butter pitch is his slider, but he only generated two whiffs on 13 swings with that pitch against the Diamondbacks, for a whiff rate of 15 percent. For the season, the whiff rate on his sliders is 31.2 percent.

"It was just one of those days," Kim said. "I am not too worried about that number. I was just trying to get hitters out any way I could."

Kim, now in his second straight season as a starter for the Cardinals, is on much firmer ground than Yang. The 1-3 record aside, his 3.65 ERA is nothing to sneeze at.

But the Cardinals are still waiting for Kim to come through with an extended outing that he himself has often talked about delivering.

He has yet to pitch six innings this year in eight starts after doing so three times in seven starts last year. (Yonhap)