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The season's performance depends on Thatcher

Before the game, KIA manager Lee Bum-ho said, "It's okay. I saw that there was nothing wrong with the examination. They say there is no problem if we manage it for two to three days." "The training part says there is no problem with the opening game. I think it will be okay when it comes to playing in the game," he said. "If the game is not allowed, I think it would be better to wait a day or two more before putting it in the entry rather than putting it in and leaving it out if it takes a few more days."

Lee also called on the players to make more thorough efforts to prevent injury. There was a reason why Kia ruined its season last year due to injuries to its main fielders. Na Sung-bum, the flagship batter and core of the team, left the team for a long time due to calf injury even before the opening game, and Kim Do-young injured his foot while stepping on the third base and was also sidelined for a long time in the opening series. At the end of the season, Na Sung-bum, Park Chan-ho and Choi Hyung-woo were all injured during the game and lost momentum at the end of the season, before eventually failing to make the postseason. Lee said, "I have watched all of this as a batting coach last year. The coach urged us to manage the situation more thoroughly and focus on the games to reduce injury variables together.

"I think it's his carelessness. I think it's something that players have to reduce. I think he needs to make an effort to prevent injury," Lee said. "I think I should talk to the players one more time and tell them to reduce as much as possible." However, even before Lee talked to the players properly, a major negative factor hit the club. Na Seong-beom, 35, collapsed again.

KIA made a shocking announcement when the game against Samsung at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field was nearing its end on Wednesday. Na Sung-bum was diagnosed at a hospital, and the diagnosis revealed that his hamstring muscle was partially damaged. "Na Sung-bum underwent an MRI examination on his right thigh at Chonnam National University Hospital today, and was diagnosed with hamstring damage. He will undergo a re-examination in two weeks, and the timing of his return will be determined after the examination," KIA said.

Until the game, there was no notice that Na would undergo a hospital check-up. According to Kia Tigers, Na felt pain in his right thigh during a baserunning play from the second base to the third base during the third inning of an exhibition game against KT at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Sunday. He was replaced at a faster time than expected. Rather than Lee's injury, Na had a problem. As his condition became serious, Na took an MRI scan at a hospital on Sunday afternoon, and accepted the bad news.

He will be sidelined for at least two weeks. He will no longer be able to play in the opening game in 2024, which will start on March 23. He will likely focus on recovery until the end of March and wait and see what happens next. He will also need a re-examination two weeks later to confirm accurate duration of absence and rehabilitation method. It would be fortunate if he comes out with a finding that he can return soon, but if he comes out with a finding that a long-term absence is inevitable, Kia will be dealt a hard blow. He deserves that much weight. Kia, which is considered a dark horse to win the title this year, will start amid a big negative factor from the beginning of this season. Originally, the lineup was good, but the weight is clearly different without Na Sung-bum.

It is hopeless for Na. He has played as an iron man representing the KBO league. He has played in as many as five seasons before 144 games. KIA's six-year investment of a total of 15 billion won (15 million U.S. dollars) has something to do with its history of not getting injured easily. In fact, Na played in all 144 games in 2022, the first year of his transfer. However, he ruined the season due to two major injuries last year, and faced a desperate situation from the start of 2024.

Na was not even able to join the team for the opening game last year. It is because of his injury. Having participated in the World Baseball Classic before the season, Na had to undergo rehabilitation for more than eight weeks due to calf injury. Originally, he thought his condition was not so bad, but his rehabilitation period increased over and over again after checkups. As the player had not had a serious injury to his calf so far, everyone was embarrassed by the sudden event. As a result, the first game of this season was held only on June 23, not in April or May.

Up until then, no one knew that Na would be caught in the ankle by such an injury evil spirit. He performed well in rehabilitation, and made more physical during rehabilitation to say goodbye to his return. He also displayed excellent performance after his return. After his return, Na led Kia's batters with a batting average of 0.365, 18 homers, 57 RBIs and 1.098 on-base plus slugging (OPS) in 58 games. After both Na and Kim returned from injury, KIA's batters displayed incredible destructive power. It coincided with the time when Kia, which struggled in the early part of this season, took the batter's box.

However, at the end of the most important season, everything changed rapidly as Na injured his right hamstring during a baserunning play. Na injured his hamstring while playing third base in the eighth inning when his team was losing 3-4 in a game against LG at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Sept. 19 last year. Some critics say that rehabilitation alone takes 10 to 12 weeks. It was a significant loss. Eventually, Na finished the season as it was, and KIA failed to advance to the post season.

He did his best not to repeat the injury. Both Na and his team knew that once an injury occurs, chances are high for a recurrence of a hamstring injury. Both Na and his team worked out more thoroughly, and there was no doubt that they would prepare for the season in a normal condition. However, they got hurt again this time. There was no sudden change of foot during the base running process. It was a normal situation for Na and baseball players throughout their lives. However, the outcome was the worst.

Na Sung-beom's career, which had the image of health, was also scratched. The right hamstring, which was injured for two consecutive years, is now likely to be a nuisance for Na Sung-beom in the future. This is because even if he returns this time, he has to continue to pay attention to recurrence and reinforce it.

The new KIA manager Lee Bum-ho's plan also needs to be revised from the beginning of this season. Lee, who became the new coach after serving as the team's batting coach for a long time, had a slightly different plan for batting order than last year. He constantly experimented with the idea of maximizing the team's offense by placing mobile players such as Park Chan-ho, Choi Won-joon and Kim Do-young in the first to third places. Then, he picked Na Sung-bum as the right person to bring these players home. The idea was to put Na Sung-bum, who hit No. 3, in the fourth place and take over the role of the troubleshooter. However, there is no player like that anymore. As shown in last year's performance, there are no players in the team who can replace Na Sung-bum entirely, and few players in the league can be found.

There is also a way to keep Choi Hyung-woo or Socrates Brito in the fourth place to maintain the overall frame of the batting order, but there are many things to worry about in overall batting order and opening entry. In addition, Choi Won-joon, the team's key player this year, may also review the overall framework from the ground up as his performance and batting conditions are not very good. Another option is to send Lee Woo-sung, who was likely to be used mainly as a first baseman this year, back to the outfield, and according to Lee's plan, there may be a player who is rejuvenated.

If Lee Woo-sung keeps the first base, there will be another spot on the outfield side. KIA was evaluated as likely to take the outfield entry to six under the assumption that Lee Woo-sung can double as an outfield player. Na Sung-bum, Socrates, Choi Won-joon and Choi Hyung-woo are confirmed, and Ko Jong-wook, who has good offense for the remaining two seats, Lee Chang-jin, who boasts even skills in general, Kim Ho-ryeong, who has good defense, Park Jung-woo, who has good fast feet and operational ability, and Kim Seok-hwan, a big gun player with one shot, were competing. However, with Na Sung-bum missing, there is one more spot left. Attention is focusing on how to combine them.

If Lee Woo-sung is sent back to the outfield, there will be a spot on the first base this time. Hwang Dae-in and Byun Woo-hyuk can get a chance. Notably, Hwang, who started in the second-tier camp this year but hit three home runs in exhibition games, is classified as a player with a chance of regeneration.

KIA is evaluated that the remaining players during Na Sung-bum's absence last year filled the gap relatively well. Of course, it is not the destructive power when Na Sung-bum was present, but the team's batting average was 0.260 from the opening until June 22, slightly exceeding the league average during this period. There was a good performance of Lee Woo-sung. This year, the team's overall goal has increased, so we have to do more than that. While keen attention is paid to how much Na Sung-bum will miss, Kia's performance this year depends on how much it fills the gap.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2024
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