KIA pitcher Yang Hyun-jong faced his biggest crisis in the top of the seventh inning with Gwangju LG Electronics leading 6-3 on the 27th. One inning later, he gave up back-to-back singles to Park Hae-min and Hong Chang-ki. In the meantime, Jeong Ju-hyun failed to steal third base on a solo attempt, leaving the bases loaded, but one hit could have changed the course of the game.
Coach Kim Jong-guk decided to take out his big pitcher who had thrown over 100 pitches (102). He may not have had to think too much about it because he had this pitcher. Choi Ji-min, a second-year left-hander with the best stuff in the bullpen at the moment. He hadn’t pitched since the 26th, so he was even more available.
Choi has made wild improvements to his pitching mechanics while playing for the Geelong Korea of the Australian Professional Baseball League, increasing his velocity and confidence at the same time. His fastball, which had been in the low-to-mid 140s, reached 149-150mph. His average has risen to the mid-140s, making him an untouchable.안전놀이터
On this day, he was also full of confidence. He gave up a straight delivery to Moon Sung-joo, but it was a strategic avoidance. The follow-up hitter, Oh Ji-hwan, hasn’t been hitting well lately. Unlike Moon, who is a left-handed hitter, Oh is a right-handed hitter, but Choi Jimin is now confident enough to hit sliders to the right-handed side of the plate. In fact, Choi induced a fly ball to centre field that was missed by Oh, Ji-min with a slider to end the inning.
Then in the eighth, he struck out Austin Dean, Kim Hyun-soo, and Moon Bo-kyung on 16 pitches. He only threw one changeup, but his low-90s fastball and slider were enough to make him the main setup man in the eighth inning. “Ji-min Choi has been one of the most outstanding bullpen pitchers in the league this season,” said KBS N Sports commentator Park Yong-taek, who broadcast the game.
SPOTV commentator Oh Jae-won said he could be the “big pitcher without glasses”. Yang Hyun-jong, the “original” pitcher who watched Choi Ji-min’s pitches from the dugout after his suspension, also had a smile on his face. As a result, Choi Ji-min put the kibosh on Yang Hyun-jong’s bid to become the KBO’s all-time wins leader (162).
“After I came down, I saw Jimin and (Jung) Hae-young, and there was a sense of urgency. Honestly, we came down with the requirements to win, so we were desperate for (a winning pitcher). They did a good job. I’m happy for Jimin. I’m grateful. The middle pitchers are doing a good job even when the team is not doing well. They’re making their own place. I’m proud of Jimin, and I’m proud of the young pitchers who are competing and trying to make their mark.”
Choi Ji-min was also conscious of Yang Hyun-jong’s attempt to reach 162 wins. “It became a ritual,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I’ve got to stop this guy in front of me.’ I didn’t panic. I was confident that I could stop him. Even if the batsmen make mistakes, I can stop them well. I’m confident when I’m in an important situation,” she said.
Choi has now gone 17 consecutive games without allowing a run, from 20 April against Lotte to 27 April against LG Electronics in Gwangju. His batting average in May is just 0.146, compared to 0.244 in April, and he’s been on fire lately. He has established himself as the main setup man. “Getting my first hold at Jamsil LG Electronics (29 April, 2 innings, 1 hit, 2 walks, 1 strikeout, no runs) was crucial. Pil-Seung-jo went out on a break, and I gained confidence after that.”
Choi Ji-min became the closer and was promoted to the main set-up man. “I’m also confident with my changeup. My fastball is 150km, but I’m not conscious of that. I want to do my best in the given situation.”