‘Crisis pitcher’ Yang Hyun-jong finally makes it to the second team… 부진 이겨낼까

‘Big Pitcher’ Yang Hyun-jong has finally been demoted to the second team.

The Korean Baseball Organization 먹튀검증 (KBO)’s KIA Tigers announced on Saturday that it has removed Yang Hyun-jong and left-handed bullpen pitcher Kim Ki-hoon from the first team roster and promoted Park Joon-pyo and Kim Jae-yeol.

Yang Hyun-jong, who began his professional career with KIA in 2007, became the first pitcher in KBO history to throw more than 170 innings in eight consecutive seasons from 2014 to 2022. His performance has been up and down, but he has been consistent on the mound.

In 2017, he won a career-high 20 games, leading KIA to the Korean Series title and earning the honor of “The Great Pitcher”.

Having accomplished everything in the KBO, Yang decided to try his hand at Major League Baseball in 2021. But the bar was high. Unable to establish himself in the major leagues, Yang returned to KIA after a short stint of one year.

Pitcher Yang Hyun-jong of the KIA Tigers in the KBO
KIA Tigers

Although it ended in failure, Yang shook off the regrets of going overseas and successfully returned in 2022 with 12 wins.

Expectations were high for the start of this season. He was on pace to surpass Song Jin-woo’s (retired) 163 wins to become the KBO’s all-time wins leader. However, Yang’s career starts have been stalled since he won 162 against the SSG Landers on March 6.

Yang is in his mid-30s and hasn’t been his usual dominant self this season because he’s been throwing too many pitches. In his last six games, he hasn’t had a single quality start (6+ innings and 3 earned runs or less).

Yang Hyun-jong made his first start against the Kiwoom Heroes on May 15, but took the loss after giving up seven runs on six hits (one home run) and four walks in 5.2 innings.

Yang tried to hold on to the mound by throwing a season-high 112 pitches, but after a walk and a hit in the top of the fourth inning, he gave up a grand slam to Kim Hye-sung over the right field fence.

Pitcher Yang Hyun-jong of the KIA Tigers in the KBO
ⓒ KIA Tigers

There is also the unseen record. On the 8th, he gave up eight runs in just two innings against the LG Twins, but when the game was declared a rainout due to sudden rain, Yang’s runs were erased from the KBO record books.

As Yang Hyun-jong continued to struggle, KIA made the decision to send him to the second team. Rather than forcing him into the starting rotation, they decided it would be more effective in the long run to give him a break and adjust his pitching mechanics.

“It will be embarrassing for him (Yang Hyun-jong) because he’s never done anything like this before,” said KIA manager Kim Jong-kook. “I hope he can recover mentally while in the second team, have some time to himself, and then return to the first team and pitch well.”

If KIA is to make it to the postseason and beyond, they will need Yang’s performance. It will be interesting to see if the rejuvenated Yang will be able to achieve both his goal of winning the most starts and KIA’s fall baseball.

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