Ex-MLB pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun marks solid return to KBO in preseason

INCHEON-- Former major league pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun made his highly anticipated return to South Korean baseball Tuesday in preseason action, striking out four in two innings while pitching around a home run by a rookie phenom.

Kim, reunited with the SSG Landers after a two-year stint with the St. Louis Cardinals, made 27 pitches over two innings against the LG Twins at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul.

The plan had been to get Kim to throw about 40 pitches across a couple of innings. Kim threw 19 of his 27 pitches for strikes and issued a walk. The Twins won the game 4-2.

With the Landers trailing 2-1, Kim made quick work of the Twins in the top of the sixth, as he needed just 11 pitches to strike out the side. He has long been one of the fastest-working pitchers and lived up to that billing Tuesday, barely wasting time between pitches.

Kim struck out Shin Min-jae to start the sixth inning, catching him looking at a slider after three straight fastballs.

Against Oh Ji-hwan, Kim snuck in a 0-2 curveball for his second straight strikeout. The left-hander threw another curveball at a 1-2 count against Han Suk-hyun to collect another strikeout.

Moon Bo-gyeong flied out to the warning track in left field to lead off the seventh for the Twins, a harbinger of things to come for Kim.

The left-hander struck out Rio Ruiz on three pitches, and in came Song Chan-eui, who had earlier hit his league-leading fourth home run of the preseason off another ex-major leaguer, Ivan Nova.

Kim threw his hardest pitch of the outing, a fastball at 150 kph, but Song turned on the middle-middle offering and sent it over the left field wall for his second homer of the day.

Kim walked the next batter, Seo Geon-chang, on four pitches, and then allowed a single to Moon Sung-joo. Kim finally got out of the messy inning by retiring Park Jae-wook on a weak grounder down the first base line.

Kim said afterward he wished he would have made more pitches and his next target would be to make about 50 to 60 pitches over three innings.

"This is all part of a buildup (for the regular season), and I am pleased with the way I controlled my curveballs and sliders," said Kim, who threw all three curves and six of his eight sliders for strikes. "I think I am at about 80 to 90 percent physically."

Kim faced nine batters, and seven batted left-handed. That prevented Kim from testing his changeup as much as he would have liked. He said he wanted to see how he would throw the offspeed pitch with the KBO ball, which is smaller than the official ball in the majors.

"I try not to throw changeups against left-handed batters. Then finally, I got a right-handed batter (Song), and he hit my first-pitch fastball for a home run," Kim said with a laugh. "Then I ended up walking a left-handed batter next when I mixed in some changeups. Baseball is still very hard."

Kim signed a four-year contract worth a record 15.1 billion won (US$12.4 million) on March 8. He had become a free agent after the 2021 season, and unable to land a big league deal during Major League Baseball's lockout, Kim chose to come home.

Kim first pitched for the Incheon-based franchise from 2007 to 2019, while they were called the SK Wyverns under a different ownership. The left-hander won the 2008 regular season MVP and helped the Wyverns to four Korean Series titles during his first go-around.

Kim then signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals in late 2019. Over his two seasons, the first of which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim went 10-7 with a 2.97 ERA in 35 appearances, including 28 starts.

The 33-year-old had been working out on his own before signing with the Landers. He has only been training in a team structure for the past two weeks, and the time isn't on his side with the regular season set to start April 2.

SSG manager Kim Won-hyong has already said Kim Kwang-hyun won't be available for the opening weekend.

Though Kim will have to ramp up his workload a bit more, he looked to be in midseason form with his velocity. He averaged 147 kph with his 11 four-seam fastballs, after averaging about 143 kph with the pitch last year in the majors.

"I don't think I threw as hard as the radar gun readings today, but I felt pretty good," Kim said. "As long as I can stay healthy, I should be able to throw hard consistently."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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