“Back to Strawberries in 2013” Rookie of the Year from a decade ago…’Strongberry’ leads the way in third place

“I feel like we’re back to 2013 strawberries.”

The NC Dinos have rarely been at 100 percent strength as envisioned by manager Kang Ki-won. Foreign pitcher Taylor Widener was sidelined for nearly two months with a back injury just before the start of the season, and while Widener returned, Koo Chang-mo left again with a sore forearm. Shin Min-hyuk and Song Myung-ki, the fourth and fifth picks, have struggled.

Catcher Park Se-hyuk and infielders Seo Ho-cheol, Park Min-woo, Park Seok-min, and Oh Young-soo were also in and out of the first-team roster with various injuries.

In his first year as head coach, Kang Myung-hyun has had his share of headaches. However, NC is currently in third place, overtaking Lotte, which was predicted to be weak before the season. The team has won five straight games, including a dramatic 8-4 comeback victory over SSG in Changwon on Nov. 11, and swept all six games against LG (Feb. 3-4) and SSG (Sept. 11), who were in the race for the top spot.

“The starting lineup has been playing so steadily and well,” Kang explained of the recent surge. At the center of it all is Lee Jae-hak (33), the winningest pitcher in NC history (79 wins).

Lee signed a 2+1 year free agent contract worth up to 900 million won at the end of last season, but was excluded from the first team spring training this season. The team’s philosophy is to give younger pitchers a chance first, so Lee became a natural backup.

Nevertheless, Lee remained calm and prepared for the opportunity that would eventually come his way. Head coach Kang Shin-ho made sure to send a clear message that Lee was not underestimated. “I thought that if a senior player didn’t make it to spring training, he would think, ‘I’m out of the picture for this season,'” Kang said. “So I called (Lee) up and said, ‘I’m not trying to exclude you. We’re going to do a camp with younger pitchers because there are things we want to see from younger pitchers. I told him, ‘Don’t be too disappointed, I believe in you, so be prepared,’ so I told him to never give up. I thought there would be something that Jae-hak would clarify during the season.

Kang gave Jae-hak the chance he had been waiting for, and Jae-hak answered with a perfect pitch. Lee made his first start of the season for Samsung on May 21 and has pitched a quality start or better in all four games, posting a 2-1 record with a 0.72 ERA (2 earned runs in 25 innings), 18 strikeouts, 8 walks, 7 strikeouts, and a WHIP (walks allowed per inning) of 0.56. In the sweep of LG and SSG, Lee Jae-hak was a killer. Against LG on the 4th, he pitched 6 innings, 2 hits, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, and 1 earned run (unearned). Against SSG on the 10th, he pitched 7 innings of 2-hit ball, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts, and no runs.

“He’s back to the strawberry he was in 2013,” Kang said of Lee Jae-hak’s current form. That was the season when Lee was the team’s inaugural ace and won the Rookie of the Year award. He remembers how he shocked the league with his two-pitch arsenal of a fastball and changeup. Lee won the Rookie of the Year award after going 10-5 with one save in 27 games with a 2.88 ERA (50 earned runs in 156 innings) and 144 strikeouts.토토사이트

“I feel like my fastball velocity is up now, so my changeup has more effect. His changeup is also much better, and his cutter is getting a better percentage of strikes, which is harder for left-handed hitters to handle,” he said of Lee’s current form. Lee is averaging 140.2 kilometers per hour on his fastball this year. This is up from 139 kilometers in 2022 and 138.1 kilometers in 2021. In a recent game against the LG Electronics SSG, his fastball reached 146 kilometers. A powerful fastball and a changeup with lots of movement have been Lee’s trademarks.

The opportunity that the veteran Lee Jae-hak had been eagerly awaiting eventually gave NC the boost they needed to climb higher in the summer when everyone else was struggling. In case you forgot, summer is the peak season for strawberries.