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Once-solid bullpen for NC Dinos going through rough patch in 2018

All Headlines 13:55 April 11, 2018

SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- What has once been a solid bullpen for the NC Dinos is going through a rough patch in the 2018 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, with a heavy workload from a season ago likely taking its toll.

In 2018, the Dinos ranked second in bullpen ERA with 4.32, only 0.01 behind the league-leading Doosan Bears. Their starting pitching, on the other hand, ranked only seventh among the 10 clubs with a 5.05 ERA.

This year, the script has flipped. Through Tuesday's action, the Dinos were ninth with a 6.50 bullpen ERA but first in the starting pitchers' ERA with a sparkling 2.63.

In this file photo from March 25, 2018, Yoo Won-sang of the NC Dinos throws a pitch against the LG Twins during the top of the seventh inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Last year, the relief corps helped carry the Dinos to their fourth consecutive postseason. And they were called upon frequently as the Dinos won the wild-card game and then played the first two rounds of the postseason. Right-hander Won Jong-hyun, in particular, pitched in six consecutive postseason games at one point.

And perhaps those relievers haven't quite recovered from that, and they have been knocked around in a few games already this season.

On Tuesday against the KT Wiz, starter Lee Jae-hak left after 7 2/3 innings having given up just two earned runs. But the Wiz rallied in the top of the ninth inning to win the game 5-4.

Kang Yoon-goo gave up a leadoff single to Mel Rojas Jr., and NC manager Kim Kyung-moon promptly summoned his closer, Lim Chang-min. The right-hander allowed a single to Hwang Jae-gyun and then the knockout blow came in the form of Yoo Han-joon's three-run home run.

That ugly sequence was a snap shot of the season for the Dinos' relievers. Last Sunday against the Bears, the Dinos couldn't hold on to a 5-3 lead, as they let in three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on a series of base hits and walks.

The Dinos rallied to tie the score at 6-6 in the top eighth, but Lim, the closer, allowed three runs in the bottom half of that same inning on two doubles, two walks and an error.

The Dinos tried their best to bail out those relievers, and tagged on four runs in the top ninth and took a 10-9 lead into the bottom of the ninth. But as had been the theme all day, the bullpen couldn't make it stand. This time it was Yoo Won-sang's turn to make a mess of an inning.

In this file photo from Oct. 20, 2017, Lim Chang-min of the NC Dinos throws a pitch against the Doosan Bears during the top of the sixth inning in a Korea Baseball Organization playoff game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

In fact, he didn't even complete the ninth inning, retiring just one batter while giving up two runs on three hits and two walks and watching the Bears celebrate their 11-10 victory.

Lim, an otherwise reliable closer with 86 saves over his past three years and a career 3.17 ERA, has a 6.43 ERA in eight appearances this year. Won, who has been a workhorse after beating cancer in 2015, is the owner of an unseemly 13.50 ERA in seven outings.

Despite their gaudy ERA, the Dinos' starters have combined for just four victories. That's because their bullpen has blown a lead in the eighth inning or later five times already.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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