Even before the start of the year, KIA had dreams of completing a “lefty kingdom,” boasting a lineup that was as deep as ever, with Yang Hyun-jong (35) as the “big man,” as well as national lefty Lee Yi-ri (21), special rookie Yoon Young-chul (19), hold machine Lee Jun-young (31), first-round pick Kim Ki-hoon (23), and free agent acquisition Kim Dae-yoo (32).
One more player was added to the roster. Choi Ji-min (20). Now in his second year as a professional, Choi has quickly become a key part of the KIA bullpen with his fastball reaching the 150-kilometer range.
In KIA’s 3-2 win over Kiwoom on Tuesday, Choi came on in the eighth inning and pitched ⅔ of a scoreless inning before handing the baton to closer Jung Hae-young in the top of the ninth. Even when KIA was down 0-1 to Kiwoom on the 21st, Choi was called to the mound to prevent further damage in the top of the ninth. Choi threw a 140-kilometer fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and struck out three in the first inning. Although KIA lost the game 0-1, it was a testament to Choi’s current form and position in the bullpen.
Choi, who was selected with the fifth overall pick in the first round of the 2022 KBO Draft, appeared in six games with the first team last year and posted a 13.50 ERA, but this year, he has already pitched in 18 games with a 1-0 record, two saves, and a 1.27 ERA in 21⅓ innings. In those 21⅓ innings, he’s allowed just 15 hits and no home runs. He has struck out nine batters, but has also walked just six. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the best left-handed bullpen in the league right now.
While his increased velocity and improved command of his pitches can be attributed to his “explosive growth” in his second season with the Kia, Kia manager Kim Jong-kook sees the keyword “confidence” as the reason for his growth.
“His fastball has improved, his control has improved, but the most important thing is that his confidence has improved,” Jong-guk said. “No matter how good your control is or how good your control is, if you don’t have confidence, you won’t be able to give your 100% at the most important moments. For me, the biggest improvement is confidence. I feel like when I’m on the mound, I’m throwing with no regrets, whether the outcome is good or not.”메이저놀이터
Little by little, he’s gained more confidence in his pitches, and he’s been pitching with more confidence on the mound. Naturally, the results are good. It’s hard to imagine the KIA pitching staff without him now.
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