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Nexen Heroes' pitchers unable to find strike zone

All Headlines 09:23 April 04, 2013

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- The Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) have been quite generous early in the 2013 season, and that has actually worked against the team.

Pitchers for the Seoul-based club have been handing out free passes to opposing hitters with alarming regularity. Through four games, the Heroes have issued 27 walks and hit five batters, both second-highest totals in the KBO behind the Hanwha Eagles.

The Heroes have split their four games so far.

The Eagles' woes had been somewhat expected, for their already thin staff lost No. 1 starter Ryu Hyun-jin to the Los Angeles Dodgers and former big leaguer Park Chan-ho to retirement in the offseason. They have issued 30 walks and nailed seven batters, and have lost four straight games to start this season.

The Heroes' tale, if not entirely unexpected, is at least disappointing. First-year manager Yeom Kyung-yup, who was the team's third-base coach last year, had stressed the need to cut down on walks all spring. The former infielder was joined by two ex-pitchers on his staff, bench coach Lee Kang-cheol and pitching coach Choi Sang-deok, in trying to work the pitchers into shape.

Whatever they did hasn't worked out yet.

Take, for example, Wednesday's home game against the LG Twins. The Heroes lost the game 14-8, a result that served as an apt microcosm for their season so far.

The Heroes haven't had trouble scoring runs. They lead the KBO with six home runs and rank second with 26 runs scored. Three of those homers came Wednesday.

Left-handed starter Kang Yoon-gu, though, lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and four walks. He threw 76 pitches.

The second pitcher for Nexen, Jang Hyo-hoon, pitched 3 2/3 innings in relief, but he handed out five walks against just one hit.

The lack of command was apparently contagious, because the Twins' six hurlers gave up seven walks. The game took over four hours to complete, and even the winning manager, Kim Ki-tae, apologized to a little more than 4,000 fans at Mokdong Stadium for keeping them out late on a chilly night.

Last season, the Nexen staff allowed 535 walks and hit 74 batters, both the highest figures in the KBO. Of those 535, 211 walks were given up by the bullpen. The pitchers' collective failure to find the strike zone might have been the decisive blow to the Heroes' bid for their first playoff berth in 2012. They entered the All-Star break in third place but ended the season in sixth.

Yeom, the manager, said after Wednesday's game he hasn't lost his faith in his pitchers.

"I hope our players have learned the importance of each and every pitch," Yeom said. "You can't improve your command overnight. But we're going to try to find out why we're walking so many batters and come up with ways to reduce walks. But I think our guys will be better as the season goes on."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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