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With injuries behind, left-hander 'can't wait to pitch' in WBC

Jan. 6, 2023 - 09:44 By Yonhap
South Korean baseball player, Koo Chang-mo (Herald DB)

South Korean pitcher Koo Chang-mo has been as unlucky with injuries as he has been great on the mound. One of the country's top starters in recent years, Koo was forced to miss international action lately because of untimely injuries.

The stars have finally aligned for the 25-year-old this year, as Koo is gearing up for the World Baseball Classic in March.

In a phone conversation with Yonhap News Agency on Thursday, one day after being named to the 30-man national team, Koo said he is on the right track to peak in time for the March 8-21 competition.

"In the past, I hit the gym in December and started playing catch in January to get ready for the new season. But this time, I started throwing in early December," the NC Dinos starter said. "I've let down many people with so many injuries. I want to prove that I can be a competitive pitcher internationally, too."

When healthy, Koo has been one of the best pitchers in the Korea Baseball Organization. He just hasn't pitched very often.

In 2019, Koo received his first extended run as a starter, and responded with a 3.30 ERA in 19 starts with 108 strikeouts in 101 innings. He was selected for the Premier12 that year, which doubled as an Olympic qualifying tournament, but had to withdraw because of a lower back injury.

Koo was limited to 15 appearances, including 14 starts, in 2020, and went 9-0 with a 1.74 ERA. He struck out 102 but walked only 18 in 93 1/3 innings.

But then Koo missed the entire 2021 season because of a forearm fracture. The injury also kept him out of the Tokyo Olympics that year, as South Korea failed to win a medal in the six-nation tournament.

Koo watched on television as South Korea lost to Japan at both competitions. South Korea will face Japan once again at the WBC in the preliminary round, March 10 at Tokyo Dome, and Koo has circled that date.

"I'd love to beat Japan more than anything," Koo said. "We've struggled against Japan in international tournaments, and I hope I get to face Japan and pitch well in that game."

Japan, world No. 1, is among the pretournament favorites, with a roster filled with major league stars like Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. Other big leaguers include Masataka Yoshida, Seiya Suzuki and Lars Nootbaar, a US born player whose mother is Japanese.

"I am curious to see how my pitches will play internationally," Koo said. "Right now, I am more excited than nervous. I can't wait to pitch at the WBC."

Koo will look to build on a solid 2022 season, in which he went 11-5 with a 2.10 ERA in 19 starts. He had seven scoreless outings. (Yonhap)