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Dismal pitching negates powerful offense for Doosan Bears

All Headlines 11:21 May 22, 2013

SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) -- The Doosan Bears have been quite a generous team in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) this season, and that's not necessarily a good thing in baseball.

The Bears dropped to the Nexen Heroes 15-7 on Tuesday night. The Heroes pounded eight Doosan pitchers for 17 hits, and it marked the 11th time in 18 games in May that the Bears have given up more than 10 hits in a game.

Only three weeks ago, the Bears boasted the KBO's best team ERA. Through Tuesday, they have the worst ERA of 4.85.

The May 8 debacle against the SK Wyverns may have been the turning point. The Bears blew an 11-1 lead and lost 13-12, as the Wyverns set the KBO record for the biggest comeback.

Four days later, the expansion NC Dinos tagged their franchise-record 17 runs on the Bears and beat them by 12. On May 18, the Hanwha Eagles, who have scored the fewest runs in the league so far, got 14 runs off the hapless Doosan pitching.

Then came another shellacking on Tuesday, as the Heroes blew open the game by scoring eight runs in the fifth inning alone.

Despite these huge losses, it's remarkable that the Bears are still four games above .500, at 21-17-1, good for fourth place. The Bears have scored the most runs so far this season and have the best team batting average. They also have hit more triples and stolen more bases than any team.

And yet the complete wreck of a pitching staff has given up just as many runs.

Right-hander Dustin Nippert, a former Texas Ranger playing in his third KBO season, has been the lone bright spot on the staff. He leads the league with a 1.58 ERA and is second with five victories. Two other right-handers, Noh Kyung-eun and Kim Sun-woo, have been disappointing, combining for three wins while their ERAs remain at 4.89 and 4.54, respectively.

This has been a particularly frustrating start for Noh, who blossomed last season with a career-high 12 wins, 10 of them coming after he left the bullpen to become a starter in midseason. Noh also made the South Korean national team for the World Baseball Classic in March.

As a full-time starter in 2013, Noh has allowed four or more earned runs in four of his eight starts.

Garrett Olson, a one-time big leaguer who signed with the Bears this offseason, has only thrown 9 2/3 innings in three games. He was demoted to the minors for a rehab assignment after suffering a left thigh injury. He's scheduled to make a minor league appearance on Saturday and could rejoin the team as early as next week.

In Olson's absence, manager Kim Jin-wook has used relief pitchers in starting roles, hoping they could give the Bears at least five innings. Yet the strategy has largely backfired.

Kim Sang-hyun, the team's alleged No. 5 starter who has also pitched in relief, has failed to get past three innings in his last three starts. Kim's premature exits have forced manager Kim Jin-wook to call on his bullpen early.

The bullpen has been like an island of misfit toys. Byeon Jin-soo, who enjoyed a stellar rookie season in relief last year, has been knocked around this year. In 16 innings, Byeon has allowed more hits and walks than strikeouts, and has an unsightly ERA of 8.44.

Right-hander Yun Myung-jun, touted by his pitching coach Chung Myung-won before the season as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, has allowed earned runs in six of his eight appearances. After 9 2/3 innings, his ERA sits at 14.90.

Yun didn't lower his ERA on Tuesday. He was charged with two earned runs without recording an out against the Heroes. In the fifth, Yun was ejected after hitting two straight Nexen batters.

Nexen's Kang Jung-ho stole third in the fifth with the Heroes leading 11-4. Yun promptly hit the batter at the plate, Yoo Han-joon, with a pitch. Yun then nailed the next batter, Kim Min-seong, with the very next pitch.

Those hits may have been in retaliation of Kang's steal with a seven-run lead, which may have broken an unwritten rule in baseball that says a player shouldn't steal with a substantial lead in late innings, so as not to upset the other team.

Given that the game was in the fifth inning and the Bears' offense is capable of putting together big innings, Yun's decision to hit the opposing team's No. 8 and No. 9 hitters wasn't probably the wisest one in that circumstance. Plus, the second hit-by-pitch came with the bases loaded, and Yun ended up gift wrapping a run for the Heroes -- the last thing the Bears needed.

That fifth inning may have been a microcosm of May that the bullpen has suffered through. Manager Kim Jin-wook had very little to say after the game, only apologizing to the fans for the "poor performance."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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