Kim Kwang-hyun is returning to the South Korean baseball league. Samsung Lions head coach Heo Sam-young said he has mixed feelings about his return while the Lions’ ace pitcher Won Tae-in expressed confidence, saying he has been waiting for this moment. Unlike the Lions head coach, who said, “It will not be an easy season,” Won is waiting for the day to play against Kim Kwang-hyun.
“It is an honor to have the opportunity to play against Kim, who had a success in the Major League Baseball,” Won said in a phone interview with The Dong-A Ilbo on Tuesday. “I will grab a victory against Kim when playing at real matches.”
Kim played in the KBO in 2019, when Won was just a rookie, but the two pitchers never met in a game as starting pitchers.
Won owned a 4-8 record with a 4.82 ERA in his debut season, which is relatively weak compared to Kim, who owned a 17-6 record with a 2.51 ERA. However, Won clinched a victory against Dominican pitcher Henry Sosa, whom the SK Wyverns (currently SSG) signed as their secret weapon, on June 9, 2019. Won led the Lions to a 9-0 victory with five shutout innings, breaking a seven-match losing streak against SK.
Over the next two years, Won became one of the best pitchers in the league. He improved his physical strength, raising the average speed of fastball from 139.9 kilometers in 2019 to 144.4 kilometers. Better results followed. Owning a 14-7 record with a 3.06 ERA last year, he was chosen as a member of the national baseball team in the middle of the season and played at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
While mostly pitching fastballs (46.2%) and change-ups (29.7%) last year, Won is planning to pitch more sliders (17.2%) this season. A slider is a type of pitches that helped Kim Kwang-hyun achieve his 136 career wins in the KBO.
Won said he focused his efforts on designing pitching during off-season so that he can pitch faster and more exciting sliders. “I’m not at 100% yet,” Won said. “For the rest of the off-season, I’ll try my best to complete pitches that curve sideways and drop suddenly, making batters hard to predict the course.”
In a tiebreaker game to decide the regular season champion last year, Won stuck out eight during six innings but became a losing pitcher as he allowed one unearned run. As a result, KT became the regular season champion. Won is practicing pitching so hard in order not to miss the top spot this season again and to win against Kim Kwang-hyun.