Bears’ right-hander stays hot with best start of 2022

SEOUL-- On the heels of a strong performance from last week, the Doosan Bears' right-hander Lee Young-ha stayed hot on Tuesday with his finest start of the season -- and his best in nearly two years.

Lee tossed seven scoreless innings in the Bears' 9-0 victory over the Kiwoom Heroes on Tuesday at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.

Lee also struck out a season-high seven batters and matched his season low with three hits allowed. All of them were singles.

This was Lee's first start of at least seven innings and no more than three earned runs allowed since May 30, 2020.

Lee made 102 pitches and 69 were strikes. He mostly featured four-seam fastballs (44), sliders (32) and forkballs (22), while also sprinkling in four curveballs.

Lee allowed just two base runners through six innings, and he sent an early message by striking out leadoff man Lee Yong-kyu, one of the toughest batters to strike out in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Lee Young-ha struck out two more batters in the second, and a leadoff single in the third inning amounted to nothing. It continued to be smooth sailing over the next three innings for Lee.

Lee saved his best escape act for what turned out to be his final inning of work, the bottom of the seventh.

He gave up consecutive singles to start that frame. After two outs, though, Lee walked a batter to load the bases.

Against pinch hitter Lee Ju-hyeong, Lee Young-ha fell behind 2-0 in the count but battled back to even things up before retiring him on a weak liner to shortstop Kang Seung-ho.

That out came on Lee's 102nd pitch.

The Bears were leading 4-0 by then, and put up a five-spot in the top of the eighth to give Lee plenty of breathing room and then some.

Lee said he and his catcher Park Sei-hyok had built a detailed game plan and they executed it to near perfection Tuesday.

To wit: Lee wanted to go with his forkball early in the game, and he got three swinging strikeouts with that pitch through the first four innings. But Lee ditched that pitch the rest of the way, and began relying mostly on his fastballs and sliders.

"We've been bouncing a lot of ideas off each other, and Sei-hyok always calls great games for me," Lee said. "I am not exactly a control artist, but he makes things comfortable for me behind the plate."

Lee admitted that he felt he was going to get the hook after issuing a two-out walk that loaded the bases. Instead, manager Kim Tae-hyoung kept him in and let Lee work his way out of trouble.

"That gave me the fuel that I needed to get out of that inning," Lee said. "I felt that I had to keep (the Heroes) off the board and make life easier for the bullpen in later innings."

Lee had won his previous start on Wednesday against the LG Twins, allowing just one earned run in 5 1/3 innings. He had been roughed up in two outings before that, giving up a combined 12 earned runs in nine innings on 20 hits.

Consistency has been an issue over the past couple of years for Lee, who broke out with a 17-win season in 2019 but was below average in the next two years. He was moved to the bullpen in the second half of both the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

"After 2019, I think I became a bit stubborn and stopped listening to other people," Lee recalled. "I felt like I was already doing well on my own and I didn't need to change anything. Now that I've had a tough couple of years, I think I should have listened to some advice."

Back in the rotation for 2022, Lee is now pitching as though he never wants to go back to the bullpen.

Asked if he prefers to start or pitch out of the bullpen, Lee quipped, "I will just do whatever the manager asks me to do."

Source: Yonhap News Agency