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(Yonhap Interview) Injury layoff blessing in disguise for pitcher

All Headlines 09:23 October 25, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 25 (Yonhap) -- In notching his second career Korea Baseball Organization postseason victory last Saturday, NC Dinos' right-hander Zach Stewart was so dominant that even the opposing manager said he was surprised.

Stewart held the LG Twins scoreless in 7 1/3 innings, as the Dinos blanked them 2-0 at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. The win put the Dinos up two games to none in the best-of-five second round series. The Twins won 2-1 on Monday to stay alive, and the Dinos will try to close them out later Tuesday.

Stewart went 12-8 with a 4.56 ERA in the regular season, not a bad number in the offense-happy league but certainly not eye-popping stats.

Then when the postseason rolled, the 30-year-old right-hander looked like his old self.

He threw three scoreless outings in four July starts, but struggled in August before missing almost the entire month of September with shoulder problems.

And as Stewart tells it, the extended break ended up helping him a great deal.

Zach Stewart of the NC Dinos throws a pitch against the LG Twins in their Korea Baseball Organization postseason game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Korea, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Yonhap)

"I'd had some other injuries throughout the season and I was kind of pitching through them," Stewart told Yonhap News Agency on Monday, moments before Game 3. "I had time to heal everything. It wasn't just my arm. It was an accumulation of things, including my foot and hip. I just kind of let everything rest."

He was shut down after Sept. 1, and then came back looking sharper in October. On Oct. 1, Stewart tossed five shutout innings against the Lotte Giants, while striking out eight and walking none.

By virtue of finishing in second place, the Dinos had the bye to the second round. Their last regular season game fell on Oct. 9, and their first postseason game was Oct. 21.

LG's manager, Yang Sang-moon, said he felt Stewart seemed to throw harder and his breaking pitches seemed to have more bite than during the regular season, so much so that he "was almost flustered."

Stewart attributed his success to the added rest after the regular season, saying he didn't do anything special for the postseason.

"Maybe just a couple of weeks off helped. It gave a little life back in my arm," he said. "I pretty much took it the same. I tried not to do too much differently. I pitched against these guys a lot this year. We all know each other. I just tried to be a little different if I can, as far as trying to keep them off balance, but nothing too much."

The one thing he's doing differently in the postseason is growing his beard a little longer. It's that time of the year in baseball, where superstitious players grow so-called "playoff beard" and refuse to shave it until their season ends.

Along with Stewart, the Dinos' two other American players, Eric Thames and Eric Hacker, all have substantial facial hair.

"I just tried to make it look different in the playoffs," Stewart said, smiling as he touched his beard. "It's about keeping it fun. The 2013 Boston Red Sox all grew beards (when they won the World Series) and we're just goofing around."

Stewart said he wanted to see his Dinos finish off the Twins Monday. He didn't get his wish, as the Twins walked off on them with an infield single in the bottom of the 11th.

Hacker will take the mound in Game 4 on three days' rest. And if the Twins force a Game 5 on Thursday, Stewart will likely be asked to do the same.

Stewart also pitched twice in a five-game series last year. He enjoyed a complete game victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 2 of their second round series last year, but when he returned three days later in deciding Game 5, Stewart was burned for six runs in four innings.

Stewart insisted his approach to his next start, whenever it may be, will not change.

"I am going to prepare just in case it happens," he said of his potential Game 5 start. "Mentally, I am staying in my same routine just in case I am asked to pitch."


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