A bad day for the 162-win pitcher. The Lotte Giants, who have struggled against left-handed pitching this season, erased their silence in a single game.
The Giants pounded out 19 hits in a 14-2 victory over the KIA Tigers at Sajik Stadium in Busan on April 2. More encouraging for Lotte was not only the blowout victory, but the fact that they were able to showcase their cool bats against a left-handed starter.
This year, Lotte was 1-8 in nine games against left-handed starters. Whether it’s an ace pitcher or a rookie, Lotte’s offense has struggled against left-handed starters. Prior to today’s game, they were batting just 1-for-8 against left-handed starters.
Their one win came on April 21 against Changmo Koo against the Changwon NC, but they were held scoreless on four hits in six innings. They went on to win 3-2 in extra innings.
His opponent was Yang Hyun-jong, the best left-hander in the KBO. Prior to this game, Yang had a 3-1 record with a 2.29 ERA in eight games, including a 6⅔-inning, three-run victory against the LG Electronics on March 27 that gave him 162 career wins. He surpassed former Hanwha manager Chung Min-cheol’s 161 wins and moved into second place on the all-time wins list.
However, Lotte set the tone that they needed to break the left-handed starting jinx. In the pregame meeting, they thoroughly analyzed Yang’s game and focused on executing it. Yang throws 55.9% fastballs and 38.3% changeups against righties. Right-handed hitters were only thinking about fastballs and changeups. They didn’t think about sliders and curves. Against lefties, he throws 49.2% fastballs and 45.2% sliders, and lefties only think about fastballs and sliders, abandoning the changeup altogether. They didn’t think about pitches that were thrown less frequently.
Of course, even with preparation, it’s hard to catch a pitcher of Yang’s caliber. His 162-win career is proof of that. And Lotte didn’t allow Yang to get into unfavorable counts. Most of the time, they tried to get the bat out within three pitches. He has a good fastball, so this strategy was likely to be unsuccessful.
But this day was different. Lotte’s concentration was higher than ever. In the first inning, Hwang Sung-bin hit a 139-kilometer fastball to center field. In the second inning, Yoon Dong-hee was hit by a fastball from Yang Hyun-jong and fouled it off. After picking off three changeup pitches, she worked a full count and took a sixth changeup for a single to left. With runners on first and third, Jeon Jun-woo took a 142-kilometer fastball to center field for an RBI single. With runners on first and third, Ahn Chi-hong was hit by both a fastball and a changeup. He fouled off two fastballs to get to second base, then took a three-pitch changeup and smashed it over the first baseman for a single to the outfield. It was a lucky break, but the strategy was on point.
A sacrifice bunt by Jung Hoon and a walk to Han Dong-hee loaded the bases for Kim Min-seok, who lined a 143-kilometer fastball to left on the second pitch of the at-bat. Lee Hak-joo followed with a foul on a first-pitch slider and a foul on a second-pitch fastball. He fouled off three pitches and hit a 120-kilometer curveball for a grand slam in the fourth. His bat came out a little too early and his batting form seemed to break down a little bit as he was thinking about the slider, but he timed it well and got the home run. It was a seven-run mega inning for Lotte. Yang Hyun-jong needed only 24 pitches to get through the inning.
In the second inning, Jeon Jun-woo’s double 스포츠토토(two-pitch 134km fastball), Jeong Hoon’s timely double (two-pitch 139km fastball), and Han Dong-hee’s RBI single (two-pitch 128km slider) were all the result of the quick approach. In total, the team pounded out nine hits (one home run) against the league’s top left-hander.
After the game, manager Larry Sutton commented on the strategy’s success in the postgame comments, saying, “It was a time when we needed some things to come out, and I’m pleased that they did,” adding, “It’s especially encouraging to see the things we worked on before the game come out the way we wanted them to in the game.”
Sutton was also conscious of his record against left-handers. On this day, it was clear that he was determined to overcome his left-handed batting phobia. Sutton felt that if the opponent’s blatant targeted pitching continued, it would become increasingly difficult to overcome the jinx due to the pressure. Even before the game, Park Heung-sik and other left-handed batting pitchers intensively helped the Lotte hitters.
They overcame the disadvantage and jinx against the best left-handed starter in the league, and will face the final stage of overcoming the left-handed starter on April 4. The starting pitcher on the 4th is Lee Yi-ri.