Getting back on track is a priority, not achieving a record. That’s the story of Kia Tigers ace Yang Hyun-jong (35).
Yang will start the 2023 꽁머니 KBO League home game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on April 15. He’ll have a lot on his shoulders, as Kia has slumped to just one win (one tie and three losses) in its last five games.
Personally, this is a very important matchup. Yang’s pace has dropped significantly in the second half. His performances against the NC Dinos (4 runs in 5 and 2/3 innings) and the Samsung Lions (3 runs in 5 innings) were mediocre. However, there is a problem with Yang Hyun-jong, who is the most important pitcher in terms of innings pitched, not being able to complete six innings. He hasn’t gone more than six innings in five straight games since his last start against the KT Wiz on June 24.
His most recent start, against the LG Twins in Jamsil on June 8, was a rainout. Yang struggled in that game, giving up eight runs (six earned) on nine hits in two innings. The no-game was no consolation for Yang.
On June 2 against the Busan Lotte Giants, he was also knocked around for nine runs in two innings. It was the most runs allowed in a single game in his career. It was his worst pitching performance in 16 years. The Lotte game was especially noteworthy because it came on the heels of his 162nd career win on May 27 against LG, which moved him into sole possession of first place on the all-time list. In the very next game, Yang gave up seven runs in four and a third innings.
In fact, he gave up more than seven runs in a game three times. This is not the kind of performance you’d expect from a major league pitcher. He’s in his mid-30s and can’t easily throw his four-seam fastball in the low 140km/h range like he used to, but he’s shown the quality of a veteran with his unique ability to control his delivery.
Kiwoom is a team on a downward spiral, having lost 13 of their last 15 games (one tie). The team’s performance has plummeted since the loss of top hitter Lee Jung-hoo to injury and the transfer of “former” homegrown ace Choi Won-tae to LG.
Yang Hyun-jong cannot be counted on. Kim Hye-sung, Ronnie Dawson, and Lee Ju-hyung are hitting well. On top of that, his form is off.
Yang is on the verge of reaching another milestone. Tied for the most starts in history. The record for most career wins (including saves) is held by former Hanwha Eagles coach Song Jin-woo with 163. Yang Hyun-jong, who has 164 career wins, has 162 starts. One more win would tie him with Song.
In his first two starts of the second half, the issue was more prominent. However, the Kiwoom game is a different story. Win or lose, a quality start (6+ innings and 3 or fewer earned runs) is the most important thing. They need to get the most innings and least runs in the second half.
Kia is currently in contention for a top-five finish. Considering the ups and downs of their young starting pitchers, they need Yang Hyun-jong to anchor them. The game against Kiwoom on the 15th will be Yang’s most important start of the season.