Pitchers Yoon Suk-min, Park Hee-soo return to action
Published : May 6, 2013 - 17:48
Updated : May 6, 2013 - 17:48
A pair of key pitchers in the top South Korean baseball league made their season debuts over the weekend following an extensive injury layoff, trying to boost their respective teams' title aspirations.

Right-hander Yoon Suk-min of the Kia Tigers made his first appearance of 2013 on Saturday and earned a victory over the Nexen Heroes in relief. Left-handed reliever Park Hee-soo of the SK Wyverns also pitched for the first time this season on Saturday and pitched again the next day, picking up his first save of the season.

Yoon had started the season in the minors on a rehab assignment from shoulder pains, and joined the Tigers on Friday. Manager Sun Dong-yol had said Yoon, a former MVP-winning starter, would spend some time in the bullpen and lived up to his word by sending him out in the fourth inning on Saturday.

The Tigers were leading 4-3, but the Heroes had runners on the corners with two outs. Yoon retired Lee Taek-keun on a grounder to end the threat. After two scoreless innings, though, Yoon gave up a game-tying, solo homer to Lee in the seventh.

Yoon's teammates let him off the hook, though, scoring two runs each in the top eighth and the ninth for the 8-4 win. Yoon was credited with the victory after 3 2/3 innings of work.

Yoon, who threw 53 pitches, reached 148 kilometers per hour with his fastball on Saturday, closer to his usual velocity of around 150 kilometers per hour compared with his rehab appearances in the minors.

Before Sunday's game, Sun, the manager, told reporters he would insert Yoon back in the rotation in two weeks, after using him either as a middle reliever or a spot closer.

"He entered the game in such a difficult situation and an ordinary pitcher wouldn't have been able to get out of the jam,"

Sun spoke of Yoon's season debut. "We were able to win because Yoon Suk-min kept us in the game. But he threw a lot of pitches and will probably have to take two or three days off."

The Tigers ended up taking two out of three against the Heroes in their three-game set, replacing Nexen at the top of the standings. Yoon's addition to the already solid rotation will provide even more boost to the Tigers' championship aspirations.

In Yoon's absence, left-hander Yang Hyun-jong has more than ably filled in as the No. 1 starter. He was named the KBO's Player of the Month for April after going 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA, bouncing back after two largely disappointing seasons in and out of the rotation.

Yoon, too, will need to bounce back this year if he wants to realize his dream of pitching in Major League Baseball (MLB) someday. The 26-year-old is eligible to become a free agent after this season, and he has hired uber-agent Scott Boras to help him reach the big leagues.

Yoon captured his first KBO MVP award in 2011 after winning the pitching Triple Crown, as the league leader with 17 wins, a 2.45 ERA and 178 strikeouts. Just a year later, Yoon went just 9-8 and his ERA rose to 3.12. After missing more than a month of action this year, Yoon may not match his win total from 2011, but major league scouts will closely watch his performance the rest of the season.

Park Hee-soo also returned to action Saturday after sitting out with an elbow injury. With his Wyverns leading the Hanwha Eagles 4-0 in the ninth, Park retired three batters in order on just 12 pitches.

He came back out the very next day and picked up the save with 1 1/3 perfect innings.

Park was the setup man to the closer Jung Woo-ram last season and helped the Wyverns reach the championship Korean Series for the KBO-record sixth straight year. Jung, though, is now doing his mandatory military service, and the Wyverns decided to turn Park into the closer.

Park made the South Korean national team for the World Baseball Classic in March. He pitched three innings in the opening round action in Taiwan but then complained of elbow pains afterward, forcing him to begin the KBO season in the minors.

Even without Park, the Wyverns had been near the top of the KBO in team ERA and opponents' batting average, and yet that hasn't translated into overall success. They're just 11-12 with one tie so far, good for only sixth place. (Yonhap News)