“I think the bat is a bonus. My goal is to give up as few runs as possible when I’m out there.”

Catcher Yoo Kang-nam, who led the Lotte Giants to victory, shared his thoughts.

Lotte won 6-5 against the Kiwoom Heroes of the 2023 KBO Baseball League at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Guro-gu, Seoul, on 27 April. With the win, Lotte extended its winning streak to three games and secured a three-game weekend sweep, improving to 26-15 and closing to within one game of leader LG Twins (29-1, 16-1). They are just half a game behind second-place SSG Landers (28 wins, one draw and 16 losses).

Starting as the No. 8 hitter and catcher, Yoo Kang-nam made his presence felt at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, including the game-winning hit, before being replaced by pinch-hitter Lee Jung-geun in the top of the eighth inning, backing up starter Charlie Barnes (six scoreless innings) and left-handed reliever Kim Jin-wook (one scoreless inning).스포츠토토

After a grounder to second base in the third inning and a foul fly to first base in the fifth, Yoo’s bat came alive in the top of the seventh inning when both teams were tied at 0-0. With runners on first and second after back-to-back singles by Noh Jin-hyuk and Han Dong-hee, Yoo took a 142km fastball from left-handed reliever Kim Jae-woong and smashed a two-run double to right-centre field. He then scored on a double by pinch-hitter Ahn Kwon-soo.

With the momentum on his side, Yoo added another hit in the top of the eighth. One out later, he took advantage of a three-pitch 146km fastball from right-handed reliever Kim Jun-hyung for a two-run double to left-centre, ending the game.

After the game, Yoo said, “I had a lot of regrets from my at-bats before that (in the third and fifth innings). I wasn’t satisfied. I hit the expected pitch and it worked, so I went out with the idea of swinging when the pitcher threw it with the hitting point in front of me,” he said. “Before that, I hit a fastball and I could have been out, which could have been a burden, but I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and turned it around.” He reflected on the circumstances of his game-winning hit.

Yoo, who made his professional debut with the LG Twins in 2011, is a hard-hitting slugger who has hit .267 with 103 home runs and 447 RBIs through the 2022 season. From 2017 to 2021, he drew double-digit arches every year.

However, this season, his first year with Lotte, he hasn’t been as successful at the plate. Including today’s game, he is batting .239 with one home run and 12 RBIs.

Nevertheless, Yoo emphasised the catcher’s defence. The catcher’s ability to lead the pitchers is an important factor that can make or break a team’s year.

“I’m not hitting right now,” he said, “but I thought, ‘Let’s focus a little more on the ancillary things and try to do a good job. If I focus on that (batting), I might not be doing well and I might not be leading well. I think the bat is a bonus,” he said. “Right now, I’m just happy that we’ve been able to creep up (the team ERA) from the bottom. We were in the low five’s and now we’re in the low three’s. We’ve been working hard to reduce our team goals against average. I try to prepare and run the game meticulously.”

“My goal is to give up as few points as possible when I’m out there,” said Yoo Kang-nam, adding, “It’s only when we don’t have a lot of points that we think, ‘Let’s do this.’ That’s what we’re focusing on. We want to concede as few goals as possible to keep (the players) motivated. We have a lot of young players, so if we concede a lot of goals, it can really break (their will).”

True to his word, Lotte’s team ERA, which was poor at the start of the season, has dropped to 3.95 with 28 games remaining. This is largely due to the stabilisation of the starting staff. Barnes, who was the starter against Kiwoom, as well as Dan Streeley and Park Se-woong, who had been up and down, have all been pitching well of late.

“Our starting pitching staff is in a phase where they’re coming back from a dip, so we’re trying to focus on that,” Yoo said. “It’s a good result, so I think we’re preparing more meticulously until the end. I’m proud of myself for getting a good result. I think I need to prepare more like the first time without losing my mind.”

Lotte have been on a terrific run of late, threatening the top of the table, and this has been driven by a ‘team first’ mentality that puts the team before the individual.

Yoo Kang-nam said, “The players are trying to work as a team. (Ahn) Chi-hong-i called a meeting when we were struggling a little bit in the game, and he conveyed to us the idea that everyone wants to get a hit, but let’s try to bat as a team to advance one more base. The juniors also recognised that. I think the players are focused and playing baseball as a unit, and it’s paying off.”

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