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"Hanwha Selection"?

The same trend was observed last year. Hanwha's starting pitchers played a total of 682 innings, and among the 10 teams, Hanwha was the only one whose starting pitchers did not meet 700 innings. Except for Felix Peña (177 ⅓), no pitcher has finished the season under the supervision of Moon Dong-ju (118 ⅔ innings).

Will Hanwha's starters be able to show a better performance this year? It is true that expectations have risen in the preparation process alone.

First of all, Moon, who is in his third year as a pro, will play more innings than in the 2023 season. Having participated in the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games and the Asia Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 last year, Moon started playing games a little later than other pitchers in the upcoming spring camp. He only focused on training at the first camp in Melbourne, Australia, and played practice games twice at the second camp in Okinawa, Japan.

Hanwha manager Choi Won-ho, who returned to Korea through Terminal 1 of Incheon International Airport on the 4th after the spring camp, said, "If Moon Dong-ju plays the rotation healthy, he will enter the regular innings without difficulties." Moon Dong-ju also expressed his will, saying, "I always aim for a higher figure than the regular innings, and I think we should set a high goal and prepare hard."

Ryu returned to his former team last month, adding weight to the starting lineup. Ryu underwent more than a year of rehabilitation after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2022 when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, and announced his successful return in August last year.

Even if his ball power is lower than his prime, his breaking ball power and sophisticated control make Ryu stand out. In particular, Ryu has proven that he can throw more than five innings in every game even after his return. This is one of the things that Hanwha expects from Ryu.

"Ryu Hyun-jin pitched outdoors once or twice when he came to Okinawa after pitching indoors, and he has built his body quite well considering that he pitched indoors," Choi Won-ho said. "He performed better in live pitching on the 2nd than I expected, including ball control and breaking balls. If he plays as scheduled in the future, his starting pitching in the opening game (against the LG Twins on March 23) will not be too difficult."

Hanwha, which completed the fourth starter with Ryu Hyun-jin's addition, has yet to confirm its fifth starter. However, Kim Min-woo is in a more advantageous situation than other pitchers at the moment.

Kim Min-woo was a bit sluggish with one win, six losses and a 6.97 ERA in 51 ⅔ innings in 12 games last year, but he clearly impressed with this year's spring camp practice games. Another plus factor is that he has pitched more than 130 innings in three consecutive years since 2020.

"I thought of four Kim Min-woo, Lee Tae-yang, Kim Ki-joong and Hwang Jun-seo as candidates for starting the fourth and fifth rounds (before the start of the camp), but Lee Tae-yang, Kim Ki-joong and Hwang Jun-seo are the only players who can move to the bullpen. As for Kim, unless he shows good performance in the starting lineup, it will be more difficult to use him in the bullpen than other players. Fortunately, Kim showed good pitching in this camp," Choi said.

"I don't know how the situation will change in the exhibition game, so I'm going to make a final decision by letting Kim Ki-joong and Lee Tae-yang throw about three innings," he said, adding, "Hwang Jun-seo doesn't think of it as a bullpen right away, but Kim Min-woo is in good condition until the exhibition game, and if Kim Min-woo is used as a starter, he is thinking of using Hwang Jun-seo as a bullpen."

If so, is Hanwha preparing for the sixth or seventh starters? The best scenario the coaching staff thinks is that Peña, Ricardo Sanchez, Moon Dong-ju, Ryu Hyun-jin, and Kim Min-woo will keep the starters until the end of the season.

"If Moon Dong-ju and Ryu Hyun-jin are excluded from the starting lineup, the impact will be huge," Choi said. "I think we need to find a way to lead a season full-time. If there are no injuries, I don't think we will miss the rotation," Choi said. "Rather than giving pitchers 20 days off, I think we need to adjust the number of pitches that fit their condition on the day of the game."

Starting baseball makes a team even stronger. If starting pitchers do their part, coaching staff will be able to manage teams more easily, and bullpen pitchers will be less burdened. Attention is focusing on whether Hanwha, which dreams of making a leap forward as a solid starting pitcher, will be able to show off its power as a starting pitcher.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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