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Veteran steps into closer role for early-season surprise

All Headlines 09:29 April 11, 2016

SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- In his ninth Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, Nexen Heroes' right-hander Kim Se-hyun has stepped nicely into the full-time closer role for the first time.

The 28-year-old picked up his second save of the season Sunday against the Doosan Bears, tossing one shutout inning to wrap up a 5-4 victory.

Kim didn't have a save in 207 appearances prior to this season.

The Heroes, a consensus pick to finish in the KBO cellar this year after losing so many key pieces in the offseason, are now sitting pretty in first place with five wins, three losses and one tie.

Kim had a shaky start to 2016, as he allowed three earned runs in his first 2 1/3 innings. The right-hander has since settled down and strung together three consecutive scoreless innings, giving up just two hits in the process.

On Sunday, Kim retired the first two batters in the ninth before giving up a double to Jung Soo-bin. Min Byung-hun represented the go-ahead run at the plate, but Kim got him to hit a foul fly to first base for the game's final out.

Kim touched 152 kilometers per hour (94 miles per hour) with his fastball. Of his 13 pitches, 11 were fastballs.

Kim said afterward it was "fortunate" that the Heroes came away with the win.

"I did give up that double, but I tried to put that out of my mind and focus on the next batter," he added. "I trusted my stuff and pitched with confidence. I think I will be in some key situations down the road, and I will try to stay confident."

Kim faces the tall order of filling in for departed former closer Son Seung-lak, who recorded 177 saves from 2010 to 2015 for the Heroes before joining the Lotte Giants via free agency last winter.

Son is one of several major pieces that the Heroes will have to do without this year. Park Byung-ho, two-time MVP and four-time home run king, is now swinging his big bat for the Minnesota Twins. Outfielder Yoo Han-joon, after hitting 43 home runs the past two seasons, signed a free agent deal with the KT Wiz.

In the bullpen, two setup men for Son last year, Han Hyun-hee and Cho Sang-woo, are both out for 2016 with injuries.

With their roster decimated from top to bottom, the Heroes could miss the postseason for the first time since 2012, though they sure are enjoying the view from the top after nine games into the season.

"The players had tremendous determination to win," Nexen manager Yeom Kyung-yup said. "In particular, I'd like to give kudos to Kim Se-hyun for preserving the one-run victory."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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