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After MLB cup of coffee, pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong keeps mum on return to KBO

All News 18:24 October 05, 2021

INCHEON, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- It wasn't the kind of season he had envisioned for himself in America, but South Korean pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong has zero regrets about having tested himself against top competition this year.

Where that experience takes him next year and beyond is still to be determined. Yang, who returned home Tuesday as a free agent after one season with the Texas Rangers, said he wasn't yet ready to commit to his next destination, one way or another.

South Korean free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Oct. 5, 2021, after returning from a season with the Texas Rangers. (Yonhap)

"For now, I just want to spend some time with my family. I've never been away from them this long," Yang told reporters at Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul. "The regular season here is still ongoing, and I don't want to be a distraction to anyone now. I will think about my future while getting some rest first."

Yang signed a minor league contract with the Rangers in February, following 14 mostly successful seasons with the Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Yang, who won both the regular season and Korean Series MVP honors in 2017, had been one of the most durable starters in the KBO. But he was unable to crack the Rangers' rotation and also failed to capitalize on spot starts early in the season.

In this Associated Press file photo from Aug. 28, 2021, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Houston Astros during the top of the seventh inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Yonhap)

Yang went 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 appearances, including four starts, for the Rangers.

The Rangers designated Yang for assignment and removed him from their 40-man roster twice this season. Each time, Yang cleared waivers -- meaning, no club picked him up when he became available -- and he was sent outright to the minors.

In Triple-A, Yang pitched to an identical 0-3 record and a 5.60 ERA while making 10 appearances, including nine starts.

Yang's status as a free agent -- one with a murky future in the majors -- has generated plenty of interest in the KBO. Though Yang is 33 and has a ton of mileage on his arm, he has mostly stayed healthy throughout his career and should still be a high-end starter in the KBO.

South Korean free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong carries his luggage at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Oct. 5, 2021, after returning from a season with the Texas Rangers. (Yonhap)

Given his history with the Tigers, Yang will likely reunite with the only KBO club he's ever played for. Yang said he has stayed in touch with his ex-Tigers teammates and front office staff but added, "We never talked about my contract."

Yang said he was disappointed with himself for pitching so poorly, but he also learned a great deal from his first season in the U.S.

In this Associated Press file photo from Sept. 13, 2021, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Houston Astros in the top of the seventh inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Yonhap)

"I was able to identify areas I needed to work on and also learn new things (about pitching)," Yang said. "This season is now in the past. I will now try to put those lessons into practice on the mound."

One cultural difference that stuck out for Yang is how much fun players seemed to be having in the U.S.

"In Korea, players are under constant pressure to win at all costs," Yang said. "Over in America, I felt like players were enjoying themselves more. I'd like to talk to younger players here about that and try to help them along the way."

South Korean free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Oct. 5, 2021, after returning from a season with the Texas Rangers. (Yonhap)

Asked if he'd make the same decision to take his talent to the U.S., Yang said, "I'd absolutely do it again."

"I had the kind of experience you couldn't buy with money," Yang said. "I got to play baseball in an incredible environment around such great people. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything."

In this Getty Images file photo from June 8, 2021, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers speaks to media during batting practice at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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