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(LEAD) After 3 big league starts, Kim Kwang-hyun looking comfortable in Cardinals' rotation

All News 09:30 August 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 15-20)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- After beginning his first Major League Baseball (MLB) season as the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, the South Korean left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun now has three starts to his credit.

He now looks the part of a big leaguer starter too.

Kim tossed another fine outing for the Cardinals on Thursday in St. Louis, giving up only a run in six innings on three hits against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Kim settled for a no-decision after leaving the game with the score tied at 1-1. The Pirates won 4-3.

In this Getty Images photo, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the top of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Aug. 27, 2020. (Yonhap)

That lone run by the Pirates was unearned, as it came after a throwing error by St. Louis third baseman Brad Miller in the fourth inning. Kim induced a routine grounder off the bat of Cole Tucker for what should have been the inning's first out. Instead, Miller's errant throw put Tucker at second base, and he came around to score on a two-out single by Jacob Stallings.

That was the only blemish in this game for Kim. In three starts covering 15 2/3 innings, Kim has surrendered just one earned run on nine hits. He has struck out seven and walked four in those three outings.

Though Kim had been a high-end, MVP-winning starter in his 13 years in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the Cardinals unexpectedly named him their closer at the start of the season in July. He made his MLB debut on Opening Day, no less, and picked up a save over the Pirates despite allowing two runs -- one unearned -- in the ninth inning of a 5-4 victory.

The Cardinals were forced into a two-week quarantine following a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. When they resumed action, Kim joined the rotation, with multiple starters going down with injuries.

In his first start against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 17, Kim looked a little nervous and anxious. He even pitched the first inning wearing the batting practice cap. He also forgot to bring back his rosin bag after that opening frame and had to sprint back to the hill after nearly reaching the dugout.

In this Getty Images photo, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the top of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Aug. 27, 2020. (Yonhap)

The 32-year-old pitcher has since settled in nicely, with the proper cap on for every inning. Kim's comfort level with the future Hall-of-Fame catcher Yadier Molina is such that Kim wastes very little time throwing to hitters once Molina puts down his signs. The pitcher has rarely shaken off Molina, if at all.

Kim earned his first MLB victory over the Cincinnati Reds last Saturday thanks to six shutout innings, and the game took a brisk two hours and 15 minutes. During Thursday's game, Jose Osuna, the Pirates' No. 8 hitters, stepped out of the box multiple times during his at-bat against Kim. Perhaps Osuna was trying to disrupt Kim's rhythm, but it didn't work as he went 0-for-2 with two flyouts.

Kim escaped another jam in the sixth, which opened with another error, this time by second baseman Kolten Wong. Kim got Josh Bell to bounce into a double play and retired Bryan Reynolds on a fly ball to right field.

Those two errors aside, Kim did get some help from the outfield.

Left fielder Tyler O'Neill made two outstanding catches. In the second inning, he made a jumping grab right at the wall to rob Stallings of an extra-base hit. Then in the fourth, O'Neill crashed into the fence after a running catch on a deep fly off the bat of Kevin Newman.

Right fielder Dexter Fowler joined the party with a jumping catch on Osuna to start the fifth inning.

In his postgame interview, Kim thanked O'Neill and Fowler for their highlight-reel catches, saying those plays were almost as important as his teammates launching home runs for him.

As for the error that led to the Pirates' run, Kim insisted it's ultimately up to the pitcher not to give up a run after a runner reaches on a miscue.

"Whenever there's a defensive error, I always try not to allow any run in that inning," Kim said. "But I gave up a run today after that first error (by Miller). It increased my pitch count, and we had to play catch-up from there."

Kim said pitchers, by the nature of their job, always receive help from the defense behind, and he has thought long and hard about how he can help his defenders in return.

"I try to work fast and help my teammates get off the field quickly," Kim said. "And when a fielder makes an error, I try to keep that runner from scoring so that my teammate doesn't beat himself up."

Kim continued to use his full repertoire of pitches, though Kim acknowledged that his command was "a little off" compared to his previous outing. Of his 80 pitches against the Pirates, Kim threw 33 fastballs, 26 sliders, 12 curveballs and nine changeups.

All three of his strikeouts were swinging. Kim had first-pitch strikes on 13 of 23 batters he faced.

Kim is the only current starter in the majors with a win and a save this year.

In this Associated Press photo, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the top of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Aug. 27, 2020. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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