Doosan Bears’ Kwak-Bin Kwak started the team’s ninth home game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against SSG Landers at Jamsil Stadium 안전놀이터 in Seoul on May 25 and pitched eight innings of scoreless baseball, throwing 102 pitches with four hits, three walks and five strikeouts.

After garnering a lot of attention in high school alongside Ahn Woo-jin (Kiwoom Heroes), Kwak began his professional career with Doosan’s first pick in the 2018 KBO Draft. He got off to a rough start. In 32 games (31 innings pitched), Kwak went 3-1 with four shutouts and one save, but his ERA was a disappointing 7.55. After the season, he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Tommy John surgery is a major procedure that can take more than a year to recover from, and Kwak lost both his 2019 and 2020 seasons at a young age. In his rookie season, Kwak used the time off to transition into a starter and began to show promise, going 4-7 with a 4.10 ERA in 21 appearances.

Kwak’s biggest drawback in his debut was his fastball. In 98⅔ innings pitched, he struck out 79 batters, a very high number. That changed in the 2022 season. He appeared in 27 games and pitched 147⅔ innings in his debut, going 8-9 with a 3.78 ERA, establishing himself as a “homegrown ace” and earning a spot on the World Baseball Classic (WBC) team, and his potential is blossoming this year.

The season started off very well. Kwak Bin got off to a strong start in April, going 3-1 with a 0.88 ERA in five appearances. He was sidelined in May with a back injury, but returned to the mound in June and went on a personal five-game winning streak before the All-Star break, earning a spot on the Hangzhou 2023 Asian Games (AG) team.

Kwak Bin, who made a huge ‘impact’ despite being scratched from the first team twice in the first half due to back problems, struggled a bit at the start of the second half. After suffering a loss in his first start with five innings and four runs (four earned), he bounced back with seven innings and one run (one earned) in his first start in August. However, in his subsequent outings, he was unable to get any support from his batting lineup and suffered three consecutive losses, including two four-run games. However, on this day, he broke the bad trend.

With a fastball (45 pitches) that topped out at 153 kilometers, Kwak-Bin mixed in a slider (26 pitches), curve (18 pitches), and changeup (13 pitches) to keep SSG’s bats in check with a dominant start (eight innings of one run or less). As a result, he earned his first 10-win debut in three games and four starts. It was an added bonus that he broke the record for most innings pitched since his debut (previously 7⅓).

How did it feel to pick up his 10th win in four games after reaching nine? “I think I was a little shaky because I was thinking, ‘It’s going to come, it’s going to come,’ but yesterday (Choi) Won-jun said to me, ‘It’s going to come,’ so I was a little more relaxed,” Kwak said. “I had the desire to complete the game, but there was the next game, and there was a crisis in the eighth inning, so I just focused on facing the hitters without being greedy.”

“It’s my first 10 wins, so of course I feel good. However, I still have a lot of days left to play baseball, so I want to become a better player next year and the year after.” “When I joined the team, I didn’t know if I would be in the first team until I was 23 because the professional barrier was so high, but I think I did it at the right time,” he smiled.

The joy of winning his first 10 games was compounded by playing the most innings against the 156-win Kim Kwang-hyun (SSG), who is considered the best pitcher in the KBO. “It was a great honor to play against the best left-handed pitcher in Korea (Kim Kwang-hyun), and since my brothers’ hitting is so good, I thought I just needed to do well, but I think this win can be an opportunity for me to take a step forward,” said Kwak Bin.

On the day, Kwak-bin received a lot of help from Bae Myung-go senior Kim Tae-geun. Kim gave Kwak a leadoff single in the first inning and provided support with an RBI single in the third. In the top of the seventh inning, Kim Tae-geun also supported Kwak-bin by making a laser throw to catch Kim Kang-min at second base when Han Yu-seom (SSG) hit a single.

“Tae-geun (Kim) said to me, ‘You threw well’ before I could thank him. Tae-geun believed in him,” and Ahn Seung-han, who was also on the battery, said, “(Ahn) Seung-han, when he gets a hit, he blames himself before I blame myself, which makes me think, ‘I need to throw harder’. I’m so grateful.” He gave a thumbs-up.

While Doosan’s postseason run is important, Kwak-Bin’s eyes now turn to the Asian Games, where he has won his first 10 games in his career. When asked about his ‘ace,’ he said, “Even if I throw like this, the ace of the Asian Games is (Park) Se-woong-yi and (Moon) Dong-joo. I’m definitely not. I’ve told Dong-joo, ‘You have to do it.’ Of course I want to go and do well, and of course I have to do well. I think if we do it together, good results will come out, and I believe (Noh) Si-hwan will do it,” he smiled.

The team’s first 10 wins in six years came amid twists and turns, including Tommy John surgery shortly after joining the team. Kwak Bin is growing beyond Dusan to become an ‘ace’ pitcher representing the KBO League.

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