By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- After pitching for several years in the U.S. minor leagues, Eric Jokisch decided he wanted to find new meaning in his baseball career.
And he's hoping he can do that in South Korea.
Jokisch, a 29-year-old left-hander with 120 Triple-A games and four major league games under his belt, joined the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) last November. He said he'd been following this league all along because "it was always somewhere that I hoped to be."
He made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2014, making four appearances, including one start, while posting a 1.88 ERA without a win-loss record. Jokisch never made it back to the big stage again, and years of grinding out in the minors took a toll on him.
"I played a lot of Triple-A baseball. There, it's about trying to get to the big leagues. It's not about winning," Jokisch told Yonhap News Agency after his preseason debut against the LG Twins at Gocheok Sky Dome on Tuesday. "But going for a championship, like we're hoping to do this year, that's way more fun baseball than it is to just hope you get a chance in the major leagues. I wanted to play for something and that's what we're doing here. To have this chance, I want to take advantage of it."
Jokisch said he's also happy to find himself in a position where he feels like "an important part of the team."
"In Triple-A, it's 'If you do well, then great. If you don't, we'll move on to the next guy,'" he said. "Here, it's 'We expect you to do well' and it's good pressure to have. I want to feel like the team hopes for good things out of me."
Jokisch got a no-decision in the Heroes' 4-1 victory over the visiting LG Twins at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Tuesday. He allowed one run on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, falling one out shy of qualifying for his first victory, and struck out four while walking two.
Jokisch's pitching line could have been uglier, as he allowed a base runner in every inning that he pitched, before getting lifted with two outs in the fifth with the Heroes leading 3-1.
In the top of the first, Jokisch erased a one-out single with a double play ball. The lefty benefited from twin killing again in the second, when he completed an inning-ending, 3-6-1 double play following a couple of singles.
The Twins put men on the corners with nobody out in the third inning, and made Jokisch work to get out of the inning unscathed.
First, Jokisch got Jung Ju-hyeon to line out to second. Lee Hyung-jong then hit a fly ball to right field for what could have been a sacrifice fly, except that it wasn't quite deep enough for the slow runner at third, catcher Yoo Kang-nam.
Kim Hyun-soo then struck out swinging to let Jokisch off the hook.
The pitcher got into even more trouble in the fourth inning. He walked Tommy Joseph to begin that frame. After one out, he walked and then hit the next two batters to load the bases.
Jokisch managed to strand them all, as Yoo Kang-nam lined out sharply to shortstop for the second out and Yang Jong-min went down swinging for the final out.
After bending for four innings, Jokisch finally broke in the fifth. He gave up two straight one-out singles, but got a pop fly off the bat of Joseph for the second out. One out from escaping yet another jam, Jokisch gave up an RBI single to Chae Eun-seong, the last batter he faced in the game.
The left-hander threw 84 pitches, 50 for strikes. He relied most on his two-seam fastball and changeup, and mixed in four-seamer, curve and slider. His four-seam fastball topped out at 144 kilometers per hour.
He said his start was "definitely up and down," but his focus was not so much on trying to get a W for himself, but on figuring out KBO hitters.
"It was about trying to learn how the hitters are going to try to come after me and make my adjustments," he said. "They're willing to go with pitches and take singles. It's a little different in America."
He said the plan was to throw about 80 pitches, and he hopes to get closer to 100 pitches in his next outing before the regular season opens on March 23.
Jokisch is joining a league that has seen offensive explosions for a few years now, but he said his experience in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in the minors should help him.
"I try to be an aggressive pitcher. I try to use hitters' aggressiveness against them a bit. I try to throw off-speed pitches in fastball count," Jokisch said. "I understand you have to take some runs here and there and just stay with your game and learn from it."
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