(ATTN: CHANGES top photo; ADDS 2nd photo, comments in paras 10, 14-15)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, May 12 (Yonhap) -- After an up-and-down spring that included a two-week quarantine upon arriving back from his home in the United States in March, Kiwoom Heroes' starter Eric Jokisch was going to be eased back into action to open the new South Korean season this month.
But given the way he's pitched in his first two games so far, the Heroes perhaps shouldn't have worried.
Jokisch held the Samsung Lions to a run -- unearned -- over six strong innings Tuesday, helping the Heroes to a 3-2 win at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. The Heroes improved to 6-1 in the young Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season. Jokisch allowed just three singles while striking out seven and walking none.
Jokisch had pitched five innings of one-run ball in a no-decision in his season debut last Wednesday. He has now allowed just one earned run in 11 innings, and has recorded 11 strikeouts against one walk.
He was lifted after throwing 62 of his 83 pitches for strikes. He made 66 pitches last week and remains on a pitch count.
The game could have turned ugly for Jokisch from the get-go. Kiwoom center fielder Lim Byeong-wuk never saw what looked to be a routine fly off the bat of Kim Hun-gon, who reached second as the ball dropped in no-man's land. He scored on a single by Kim Dong-yub.
But Jokisch got the pitcher's best friend, a double play ball, and then a flyout to prevent further damage.
He also avoided damage despite giving up leadoff singles in both the second and the third, and then it was smooth sailing from there.
After a Park Hae-min single that opened the third inning, Jokisch retired the next 12 straight batters before handing the reins to the bullpen.
"I threw really well today. I was commending all my pitches," Jokisch said afterward. "I really wanted to locate my offspeed pitches today. I really did a pretty good job with that. I kept them off balance and was able to stay ahead in the count and make good pitches."
Jokisch, along with his two American teammates, Jake Brigham and Taylor Motter, went back home after spring training to be with his family and stay away from South Korea, then struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus. And when those three returned to Seoul late in March, they had to be quarantined for 14 days, per a government mandate. Jokisch and Brigham, the two pitchers, had to ramp back up after the extended layoff, and Jokisch in particular struggled in his last preseason outing on April 29, when he was charged with three earned runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Doosan Bears.
Jokisch and Brigham both pitched in that game as the final audition for the Opening Day gig, and Brigham won it with three shutout innings.
But Jokisch has been the better of the two so far, with Brigham having been limited to 7 1/3 innings over two starts.
Jokisch said he feels "100 percent healthwise," though he gets tired a little quickly. That's likely due to the disruption to his spring routines, and Jokisch said he's happy with the way he's building up.
"This year, I've made a few mechanical changes that felt a lot better," he added. "I am really happy where the velocity has been. Overall, everything has been really solid."
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