Once unwanted, veterans make early impact on new clubs in KBO

SEOUL-- Three players who have found new homes after getting released last winter made an immediate impact in fresh uniforms during the opening weekend of the 2022 South Korean baseball season.

The forgotten ace Noh Kyung-eun turned back the clock for the SSG Landers on Sunday, tossing six shutout innings against the NC Dinos in a 4-1 victory at Changwon NC Park in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Noh, 38, allowed just one hit while striking out five and walking two. He mixed in seven pitches, while touching 146 kilometers per hour (kph) with his fastball. Noh also worked efficiently, needing only 76 pitches to get his 18 outs.

The right-hander was released by the Lotte Giants after last season, and many thought his career would be done after 16 seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Noh had been mostly ineffective in his five seasons with the Giants, after blossoming into a solid starter in his late 20s while with the Doosan Bears.

But the resilient one landed with SSG in December after a showcase. He then pitched his way into the regular season rotation, after posting a 3.68 ERA over 14 2/3 innings in preseason. The Landers are hoping Noh, a former national team pitcher, can hold the fort in the back end of their rotation until two starters, Park Jong-hun and Moon Seung-won, return from elbow operations in June. Their top-heavy starting staff features three former major leaguers: Wilmer Font, Ivan Nova and Kim Kwang-hyun.

On Saturday, the first day of the season, the Giants themselves received an important contribution from a player who had been dumped by another club in the offseason.

The 29-year-old infielder Park Seung-wook got a surprising nod as the starting shortstop against the Kiwoom Heroes, and batted leadoff at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Park, released by the KT Wiz after last season, looked overmatched early against the hard-throwing Kiwoom starter, An Woo-jin, striking out in both of his first two trips. But in the fifth inning, Park knocked in two runs with a towering double to deep right field, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead for the visiting Giants.

Park also scored a run during the Giants' five-run outburst in the eighth inning, helping them to a 7-2 victory. Park batted 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored.

Much like Noh, Park is seen as a placeholder until an injured player returns. Lee Hak-ju, a former U.S. minor league prospect whom the Giants acquired in a trade with the Samsung Lions, is sidelined with a finger injury and is working his way back up. Park has been a utility-type player who has appeared at every infield position over his nine-year career. The light-hitting Park likely won't be hitting doubles every game but his versatility on the field can still come in handy.

Reliever Lim Chang-min was let go by the Dinos after the 2021 season, despite posting a solid 3.79 ERA and 17 holds across 40 1/3 innings in 46 appearances. But the Doosan Bears saw enough gas left in the 36-year-old's tank to sign him to a one-year deal in December.

As the Dinos' closer from 2015 to 2017, Lim collected 86 saves, more than any other KBO closer in that span. Lim won't be closing games for the Bears -- they already have Kim Kang-ryul in that role -- but in his first two games with the new team, Lim showed he can still be an effective setup man.

In Saturday's 6-4 win over the Hanwha Eagles, Lim came on with one out and a runner at second in the top seventh.. The Eagles had just cut the lead to 6-4 and were threatening to get even closer.

Lim retired Kim Tae-yean on one pitch, getting him to fly out to right field. Then Ro Soo-kwang grounded out to second as Lim snuffed out the Eagles' rally.

Lim went three up, three down in the eighth inning, with a pop out, a strikeout and a groundout, before Kim closed out the game in the ninth.

Lim took the mound again on Sunday, and for the second straight game, Lim was the setup man pitching just in front of Kim.

With the Bears nursing a 1-0 lead, Lim struck out his first two batters in the top eighth and got a groundout to keep the Eagles off the board.

Given his experience, Lim could be an emergency closer for oft-injured Kim. The Bears have a good recent history of reviving careers of pitchers released by other clubs, and Lim could end up being another successful reclamation project.

Source: Yonhap News Agency