“If you talk about results, the players get stressed out. Instead, I emphasise the process, such as routines and mindset.”
NC Dinos pitching coach Kim Soo-kyung reveals the secret to building a ‘fiery’ pitching staff.
NC was picked to finish in the bottom half of the standings by many experts before the season began. This was largely due to the departure of Yang Ji-ji, Noh Jin-hyuk, and Won Jong-hyun, who were the team’s key resources during the off-season, to the Doosan Bears, Lotte Giants, and Kiwoom Heroes, respectively, via free agency.
In addition, long-time foreign pitcher Drew Ruchinski, who compiled a 53-36 record with a 3.06 ERA from 2019 to 2022, headed to the United States for a big league challenge. With key resources in both the pitching and batting departments leaving the team at once, it was only natural that the team was seen as an underdog.
However, NC has defied the odds and has performed relatively well. Especially in the early part of the season, they surprised the baseball world by fighting for the top spot. They’ve faded a bit recently and are currently in fourth place with 22 wins and 21 losses with 27 games remaining, but that’s a remarkable feat given their pre-season projections.
Much of the credit for NC’s success goes to the mound. According to the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) archives, NC currently has a team ERA of 3.47, which ranks second out of 10 clubs. Considering the team has been plagued by a series of injuries, this is a great achievement.스포츠토토
The word “resilient” comes to mind when looking at the NC pitching staff this season. Every time someone goes down with an injury, someone else steps in and fills the void perfectly. Pitching coach Kim Soo-kyung’s guidance has also played a role in this virtuous cycle.
“When one person is injured, one person comes up, and in a way, it’s an opportunity for the player who comes up,” Kim said before the game against Busan Lotte (1-11 NC loss) on the 25th. “I tell the players to make an effort to grab that opportunity. I tell them not to relax to take the opportunity. (I tell them) to be greedy. When individuals come up, the team grows,” he said, explaining the philosophy behind the system.
Recently, NC has seen Song Myung-ki drop to the second team due to poor form, and native left-handed ace Koo Chang-mo was sent down to recharge his batteries, but the team has not faltered. On the 21st against the Changwon Samsung Lions (1-2 NC loss), right-hander Lee Jae-hak, a substitute starter, pitched six innings of no-hit ball with two walks and four strikeouts, and on the 24th against the Busan Lotte (3-1 NC win), left-hander Choi Sung-young did his part with five innings of five-hit ball with four walks and one strikeout.
Coach Kim Soo-kyung said, “(Lee) Jae-hak and (Choi) Sung-young were both sent down to the second team, but they didn’t give up and prepared well with the idea that they would get their chance. These thoughts could be a plus for the team,” he said with a smile.
Kim also emphasised competition. “You can only compete if you go one step further than others,” he said, adding, “I tell them to be more greedy as long as they don’t get injured. “I tell the younger players, mainly the first and second years, that when they come to the first team, they have an opportunity, and they have to be greedy to take that opportunity. It’s my job to create that atmosphere,” he said.
“I want to create an environment where young players can learn something from the development system in the second team, create their own routine process, and then when they come to the first team, they can continue to do it without changing their routine,” said Kim Soo-kyung. One of the best examples of this is right-hander Lee Yong-jun.
Yoo has been one of NC’s hot commodities this season. He made his professional debut in 2021 and didn’t win a game until last year, but this year he has come into his own and secured a spot in the starting line-up. However, he has struggled a bit in his last two games, giving up eight runs (seven earned) in a combined 4.2 innings. His season record is 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA.
“Last year, Yong-jun was developed as a starter for a year in the second team,” Kim said. “Last year, he started a lot in the second team, and he had one first-team experience each time. This year, I think he is doing better than last year because of the combination of his training and experience.”
Coach Kim Soo-kyung continued, “Last year, I think he wasn’t sure which pitches he was confident in. This year, his fastball and slider are high, but last year, he threw more curveballs and changeups than sliders. This year, I’ve figured out what I’m comfortable with and what hitters are fooled by, and I’m using it more often, so I’m getting a lot of in-play hits. It varies from day to day, but I think I’m getting good results by knowing my pitches and going with them, and getting in front of batters quickly.”
Right-hander Shin Young-woo, a “special rookie” who was selected by NC with the fourth overall pick in the first round of the 2023 KBO Draft, is now following in Yoo’s footsteps. With a fastball in excess of 150km/h and a curveball with a big drop, he is currently undergoing starting lessons in the Futures (second-tier) league. His record is 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA in five appearances. While his pitches are solid, he needs to work on his delivery.
“As we all know, (Shin) Young-woo’s strength is his velocity (on the ball),” said coach Kim Soo-kyung, “but when I first saw him, I thought he needed time to develop, just like (Lee) Yong-joon-yi. It’s good to come up quickly, but I think it’s also important to go through the starting rotation in the Futures League and get a feel for it. If you do well (in the starting rotation) in the Futures League, you are stronger, so you can be competitive when you come to the first team. There are definitely things that will improve after the developmental period.”
Kim Soo-kyung, a legendary right-hander who played for the Hyundai Unicorns and Heroes during his career, compiled a career record of 112 wins, 98 losses, three saves, and a 4.29 ERA. What does he emphasise most with his players?
“Don’t talk about results.