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Catcher-turned-pitcher wins KBO's top player award for April

By Yonhap

Published : May 9, 2023 - 10:50

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Lotte Giants starter Na Gyun-an pitches against the Kia Tigers during the bottom of the first inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, some 270 kilometers south of Seoul last Wednesday. (Yonhap) Lotte Giants starter Na Gyun-an pitches against the Kia Tigers during the bottom of the first inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, some 270 kilometers south of Seoul last Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Na Gyun-an, a former catcher now leading the starting rotation for the biggest early surprise in South Korean baseball, has been voted the league's top player for April.

The Korea Baseball Organization announced Tuesday that Na, the right-handed ace for the Lotte Giants, is the Player of the Month for April.

The 25-year-old went 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in five starts in April. He tied for the league lead in wins and ranked fourth in ERA last month, as the Giants, to the surprise of many, wrapped up April in first place at 14-8.

Na garnered 11 out of 29 votes cast by media, and earned 154,139 out of 392,071 votes from fans, receiving 38.62 converted voting points.

NC Dinos ace Erick Fedde beat Na in the media vote by six, but was a distant second to Na in fan voting with 48,106. Fedde finished with 35.45 points.

Na was selected as a catcher in the first round of the 2016 draft. After appearing in five games as a rookie in 2017, Na played 210 games combined the next two years, while only batting .124 with five home runs, 24 RBIs and 173 strikeouts.

Na turned to pitching in the minor league in 2020, going 3-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 15 games. That summer, he changed his birth name, Jong-deok, to Gyun-an.

He pitched in 23 games in the KBO in 2021, including seven starts, and posted a 6.41 ERA across 46 1/3 innings.

Na flashed more promise in 2022, when he pitched to a 3.98 ERA and struck out 123 in 117 2/3 innings. After spending the early portion of the season in the bullpen, Na made nine straight starts beginning in early August.

Manager Larry Sutton turned Na into a full-time starter this year and the decision has paid dividends, as the right-hander didn't give up a run in three of his first five starts of 2023.

Na's worst start of the season came in his first outing of May last Wednesday, when he allowed a season-high five earned runs in a season-low four innings against the Kia Tigers. (Yonhap)