Last season, 24-year-old Ahn Woo-jin, the “ace” of Korea Baseball Organization Kiwoom, started 30 games and pitched 196 innings, posting an impressive 15-8 record with a 2.11 ERA. Ahn has been just as dominant this season as he was last year. He started 18 games last year through July 21, going 10-4 with a 1.92 ERA.
This year, on the other hand, Ahn has just six wins (6 losses) in 18 games while posting a 2.47 ERA. Despite his 12 quality starts (6+ innings and 3 earned runs or less), he has been plagued by bad luck, including the league’s lowest run support (3.20 runs) and a struggling bullpen. From the end of the first half onward, it was one game after another in which he was unhappy with his pitching.
After giving up a season-high five runs against KIA on March 28, Ahn gave up four runs in a row against NC and the final game of the first half against KT. In his first start after a short break, Ahn fell to 0-2 after pitching six innings of two-run ball against Lotte. His only blemish came in the top of the third inning when he gave up a two-run double to Lotte’s Jeon Jun-woo.
Ahn Woo-jin greets the home fans during the game against Hanwha at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on July 27. Courtesy of Kiwoom
The team was also in an unfavorable trend. After dropping two of three games in a midweek series against Hanwha at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on May 25-26, Kiwoom fell into a three-game losing streak and slipped to ninth place in the league standings behind Hanwha. The pressure was on the shoulders of Ahn Woo-jin, who started the last game against Hanwha. Ahn’s ace instincts kicked in again.
He pitched eight innings of two-hit, one-strikeout ball against Hanwha on April 27, leading Kiwoom to a 2-0 victory. It was his seventh win (six starts) in 19 games this season. He lowered his ERA to 2.31 and never had a moment to call a crisis. He threw 99 pitches, including a fastball that topped out at 158 mph and a sharp mix of sliders, curves, and changeups, and struck out 10. Hanwha tried to make a comeback in the top of the eighth inning by sending Ha Ju-seok, Kim In-hwan, and Choi Jae-hoon to the plate in consecutive at-bats, but they were all stranded in front of Ahn’s near-perfect pitching.
Kiwoom took the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning against Hanwha starter Ricardo Sanchez when leadoff hitter Kim Hye-sung reached on an error by the first baseman, Ronnie Dawson drew a walk to put runners on first and second, and No. 4 hitter Lee Hyung-jong followed with an RBI single. The next batter, Song Sung-moon, hit an infield grounder on a 1-3 pitch to bring home Dawson, who was on third base, for a run. Closer Lim Chang-min pitched a scoreless ninth inning. Sanchez also pitched seven innings and allowed two runs (one earned), but was unable to avoid the loss.
Speaking after the game, Ahn said, “I was worried because my pitching in the last four or five games I started wasn’t very good. I checked the data through the analysis room, and there was a part where my fastball changed to a two-seam fastball,” he said. “The things I paid attention to since playing catch in the last two weeks seem to be working well.”
Ahn Woo-jin, who had lost back-to-back games against KT-Lotte, also ended his losing streak with the win. However, he didn’t attach much significance to the individual victory. “When I pitch, I have the mindset that the team should win. I don’t go up there to make a quality start, I go up to the mound to make sure the team wins, especially when we’re on a losing streak,” he said.
Ahn took the mound with the numbers “51” and “29” on his cap. 51 and 29 are the back numbers of outfielders Lee Jung-hoo and Lim Ji-yeol, who have been sidelined with ankle and finger injuries, respectively. In particular, Lee Jung-hoo, the team’s leading hitter, underwent surgery earlier in the day to suture a new ligament to wrap around his left ankle tendon. He is expected to take about three months to recover and rehabilitate, making it difficult for him to return in time for the regular season.
The absence of Lee Jung-hoo, a pillar of Kiwoom’s batting lineup, has increased the pressure on pitching ace Ahn Woo-jin. He said, “Yesterday (26th), I had a video call with Jung Hui-hyung and the high school seniors to exchange greetings. If the team goes to fall baseball, Jung might come back, so I really want to go up,” he said.바카라사이트
“I think we need to win a lot of games in the second half. “I think we need to win a lot of games in the second half of the season,” he said, adding, “The players are all mindful of the fact that we need to win when we play teams that are competing for the rankings.