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Young reliever emerges as reliable workhorse

All Headlines 09:07 October 19, 2017

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- While one teammate after another has fallen by the wayside in the ongoing Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason, NC Dinos right-hander Lee Min-ho has emerged as a reliable workhorse out of the bullpen.

The 24-year-old right-hander has not allowed a run in five consecutive appearances, a span of 7 2/3 innings. He's scattered eight hits in those innings while striking out four.

Lee was credited with the win in the Dinos' wild-card game against the SK Wyverns, after getting charged with two earned runs in 1 1/3 innings.

But then he kept the Lotte Giants scoreless in four innings across four games in the first round, as the Dinos claimed the best-of-five series in five games.

In the second round against the Doosan Bears, Lee has picked up right where he left off, and manager Kim Kyung-moon has entrusted Lee with some key situations.

In Game 1, Lee came on to start the sixth inning as the team's third pitcher, with the Dinos nursing a 6-5 lead.

Lee Min-ho of the NC Dinos (R) celebrates with a teammate after completing a scoreless fifth inning against the Doosan Bears in Game 2 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 18, 2017. (Yonhap)

Lee worked around a leadoff single in the sixth and then got two quick outs before leaving the game, with the one-run lead still intact. The Dinos exploded for seven runs in the top eighth to win 13-5.

In Game 2, Lee took over from struggling starter Lee Jae-hak in the fourth inning. He allowed a leadoff single in that frame but went on to retire the next six batters in order.

The score was tied 4-4 when Lee entered the game, and the Dinos added two runs in the top fifth before the right-hander put another zero on the board.

Things completely unraveled after Lee's departure, as the Bears crushed the Dinos' bullpen for eight runs in the bottom sixth. The Dinos sent five pitchers to the mound in that disaster of an inning.

Lee ended up being the only NC reliever to complete a clean inning.

This is the same pitcher who posted a career 6.75 postseason ERA in 14 appearances before this year. Speaking to reporters before Game 2, Lee took his heavy workload in stride.

"I think I've been going so strong because I am still young," Lee said. "During the regular season, I always got a day off after throwing more than 30 pitches. They kept me on good routines, and I've been able to stay sharp in the postseason."

Lee Min-ho of the NC Dinos throws a pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning against the Doosan Bears in Game 1 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 17, 2017. (Yonhap)

After making 30 pitches in the wild-card game on Oct. 5, Lee had two days of rest before throwing 14 pitches against the Giants. He came back three days later for a 36-pitch outing, followed by appearances of 13 and 17 pitches with one off-days in between.

There was another one-day break before Lee faced the Bears for 23 pitches in Game 1 on Tuesday. He came back out in Game 2 the next day for 32 pitches.

Now in his fourth consecutive postseason, Lee said he feels like he's finally learning the ropes.

"In the past, I just threw hard so that the batters couldn't hit," he said. "But now, I am better able to pace myself. I think I've gained some know-how through my experience, but postseason baseball is always difficult."

The Dinos' bullpen has a 6.89 ERA this postseason, with 25 earned runs in 32 2/3 innings pitched with 19 strikes against 14 walks. The relievers have given up eight home runs.

Two games into the current series, the bullpen ERA for the Dinos is 12.19 after 10 1/3 innings of work.

Lee's manager Kim Kyung-moon said he hoped his bullpen guys would stay on their feet the rest of the postseason.

"I am worried (about their workload), but at the same time, I'd like to give some pitchers more experience," the manager said. "We only have a few more games to play and so they should try to overcome (their fatigue)."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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