The Kiwoom Heroes dropped all three games of their three-game series against the Doosan Bears, making it four straight losses and dropping them back to seventh place in the standings. However, the presence of second-year pro Lee Myung-jong (21) shone through.
Kiwoom lost 2-9 to Doosan in a regular-season road game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on 9 September. At 0-10, 2-5, and 2-9, it was an inexcusable two-hitter throughout the three-game series. With their fourth straight loss, Kiwoom dropped to seventh in the league with 38 wins, two draws and 43 losses, while Doosan jumped to third in the league with an eight-game winning streak, having not lost a game since July.
Once again, it was Doosan who took the early lead as starter Chung Chan-heon was charged with six runs (five earned) in 3⅔ innings. Trailing 0-6 after a Jose Rojas single, Kiwoom called up Lee Myung-jong, who had pitched the previous day (8 August), in the clean-up spot in the order of Yang Ji-won-4, Kim Jae-hwan-5, and Yang Suk-hwan-6.
With two outs and Yang at first base, Lee threw a fastball up the middle to start the inning. The second pitch, a high fastball, went over the left field fence, ending the inning after just two pitches. In the fifth, he came back to face Kim Jae-hwan and got a strike with a curveball that dropped outside the zone. He then mixed sliders and curves to get a full count, and in the seventh pitch of the inning, he induced a false swing with a slider that fell towards Kim’s body for a strikeout. He continued to vary his pitches, removing Yang Seok-hwan and Kang Seung-ho in six balls to dampen Doosan’s batting, which was on fire with four runs in the fourth inning. It followed a no-hitter the day before.
The batting line-up fell silent in the face of the younger brother’s performance, and Kiwoom conceded three more runs in the sixth inning to lose the game, but the gutsy performance by Lee Myung-jong is one of Kiwoom’s rewards this season. Lee Myung-jong, a graduate of Seokgyocho, Segwangjoong and Segwanggo, joined Kiwoom with the 56th pick in the second round of the 2022 Korean Rookie Draft. After a rocky start to his rookie season last year with a 5.27 ERA in 27 games, he has settled into the professional game smoothly this year with a 4-2 record and 3.28 ERA in 20 games.
Lee Myung-jong’s role this season has been more of a closer. As a starter in high school, he has the innings and pitches to last, so he comes in when a starter falls apart early or Kiwoom needs to save a pitcher. Whether it’s a cleanup or a bases-loaded situation, he’ll take the mound and try to limit the damage to a minimum.
That’s not to say that Lee is a rare lefty or a fastball pitcher who is often called upon in high-leverage situations. His average fastball velocity this season is 140 kilometres per hour on Statcast, which is below the league average (143 kilometres per hour), but his deception and command of his pitches allow him to hold league-level hitters in check. Another plus is his boldness, which is uncharacteristic of a 21-year-old. We recently caught up with him in his hometown and he explained why.
“I’m more comfortable in tight, low-scoring situations,” he said, “and not just the pitcher, but the batters are nervous. Personally, I think batters swing and approach differently when they’re in scoring position than when they’re relaxed.” “For batters, my pitches aren’t usually that hard to hit. I have to win the game with my pitches, but in a close game, I can see the tension on their faces, which gives me more confidence.”
It’s a mentality he’s developed since his days at Seadoo. He also found a way to get out of bases-loaded jams with his fastball. “Even in high school, my top speed was around 145km, but there were three or four pitchers in each school who were faster than me. I was confident in my changeup and fastball, but I realised that it wasn’t enough to survive in the pros, so I renewed my mindset to deal with hitters,” he explained.안전놀이터
But Lee hasn’t stopped growing. Thanks to his seniors, who have been training with weights and taking care of his body, he has been getting stronger and stronger, reaching a maximum speed of 147 kilometres. The seniors, who love to give advice to the younger players, have also been a big help.
“My catching mate (Kim) Jae-woong is the one I talk to the most. When we play catch, he always checks the condition of my ball, and in games, I ask him before I go out. I’ll look at the batting order and say, ‘Isn’t this how we should go about it?” and Jae-woong will tell me specifically based on his experience. “(Lim) Chang-min is a similar type to me in that he focuses more on his changeup and pitches than his fastball, so he gives me a lot of know-how that he did when he was younger,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lee Ji-young, with whom he works closely, has become a strong support for him whenever he gets overwhelmed with thoughts. “When you decide to throw a certain pitch, you have to throw it confidently, but because I want to do better, I became more conscious of the batter, so I thought a lot about it right before I threw it,” Lee said. “Our catchers let me throw the pitch I want to throw when I’m in good shape. When I’m not feeling well, I throw what (Lee) Ji-young asks me to throw, but at one point, she said to me, ‘Why don’t you throw the ball you want to throw and just do what I ask you to do, that’s not like you.’ Since then, I’ve been trying to throw without thinking about it,” he said.