By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 27 (Yonhap) -- Pitching in his first Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason, U.S.-born right-hander Derek Hankins of the Doosan Bears has been thriving in a new role and has redeemed himself after a disappointing regular season.
The 30-year-old signed with the Bears in July with a record of 55-68 in 10 minor league seasons. Replacing an ineffective southpaw Garrett Olson in the Bears' staff, Hankins had an up-and-down regular season with his new team.
Hankins went just 3-3 in 12 appearances with a 6.23 ERA, giving up 42 earned runs in 60 2/3 innings, primarily as a starter. Then as the Bears opened the postseason, Hankins moved to the bullpen.
Hankins has so far been one of the key pieces in helping the upstart Bears reach the championship Korean Series. In 7 2/3 high-pressure postseason innings, Hankins has yet to allow an earned run, which prompted Doosan faithfuls to begin calling him "Mr. Zero."
The Bears have taken the first two games against the two-time defending champion Samsung Lions, and they are two wins away from becoming the first No. 4 seed to claim the KBO crown.
Before the Bears were to host the Lions on Sunday in Game 3 at home, Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, Hankins said switching to relieving has suited him just fine.
"This year, I have been a full starter when I was in the States, and I came here and started full-time," he said outside the Bears' club house. "But the previous five years of my career, I'd thrown out of the bullpen. It really wasn't a big problem for me to switch from starting to the bullpen now."
Hankins admitted he would still prefer to start. He began his minor league career in 2004 at the Single-A level and was a full-time starter in his first five years.
Nonetheless, when his coaches told him before the postseason here that he'd be pitching in relief, Hankins said the decision "never really bothered me."
"It's all about winning," he said. "Wherever they want to use me, I am totally fine with it. I just want to win a championship."
Hankins said he won a Double-A championship in 2010 with Altoona, an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but with about 8,000 people in attendance there, compared with over 25,000 here, the atmosphere wasn't even close to what he's experienced in South Korea.
"It's been a blast," he said about his first KBO playoffs. "I like all the people. Fans have been awesome. I couldn't have asked for anything more. It's been an absolute pleasure to pitch over here."
As much as he enjoys the big crowds, Hankins said he's been able to block out noise and other distractions on the mound.
"When I get out there and pitch, I don't really hear the things around me or notice anything," he said. "I haven't really got any more nervous or tense. When you're so tense, you can't think about what's going on around you. Mentally, I do much better when I am calm and relaxed. It's not been very stressful for me at all."
Despite his big frame -- at 195 centimeters and 88 kilograms -- Hankins is not a strikeout pitcher. He fanned 723 batters in 1,089 and 2/3 innings in the minors, and 30 in 60 2/3 regular season innings here. He has fanned four batters in the postseason so far.
Instead, he relies on the usually reliable Doosan defense.
"It's always easier to pitch when you have a good defense behind you," said Hankins, whose Bears made the fewest regular season errors, with 61 in 128 games. "I don't strike a lot of guys out. I want the guys to hit the ball because it helps me throw fewer pitches. I don't need to go out there and strike everybody out because I have a good defense behind."
Hankins said he has had to make some mental adjustments when he switched to the pen.
"I think the biggest difference is that you've got to conserve a little bit as a starter. You don't want to go out there and show everybody all your pitches right off the bat," he said. "(As a reliever) you may face a guy only one time so you just go out there and throw everything at him. You can use everything right off the bat to get as many outs as you possibly can."
With his Bears sitting only two wins away from the championship, Hankins said he has put his regular season disappointments behind him.
"I didn't pitch as well as I wanted to during the regular season," he said. "But pitching well in the posteason as an individual and as a team has really helped. I think it's turned out O.K."
(LEAD) Gov't to expand support for small merchants ahead of holiday
More ways to savor BTS: books, games, movies
Gov't to announce blueprint on nuke plant decommissioning in March
Wanna One's Kang Daniel preparing for solo debut in April
(3rd LD) S. Korea's military condemns Japanese warplane's 'provocative' close-range flight
More ways to savor BTS: books, games, movies
(4th LD) S. Korea's military condemns Japanese warplane's 'provocative' close-range flight
BTS album on Billboard chart for 21st consecutive week
Lee So-ra's new song featuring BTS' Suga takes music charts by storm
(2nd LD) Kim expresses 'great satisfaction' after receiving letter from Trump: KCNA