20-year-old Moon Dong-ju, or even 5 innings… ‘Hanwha’s homegrown QS’ in week 2 of no reductions

Han Seung-ju (22), the best pitcher among the Hanwha Eagles’ domestic pitchers in recent years, fell victim to veteran Choi Hyung-woo (41-KIA Tigers), and the quality start (QS) of Hanwha’s homegrown pitchers (6 innings or more and 3 earned runs or less) has remained unchanged for two weeks.

Hanwha lost 4-6 to the KIA Tigers in a regular-season home game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League on Tuesday at Daejeon Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Jung-gu, Daejeon. With the loss, their third straight, Hanwha remained in 10th place in the league with 23 wins, four ties and 37 losses.

Starting on the mound was Han Seung-ju, who was the most highly rated pitcher in the month of June with a 0.96 ERA in six games (9⅓ innings). Before the game, Han’s pitch count was set at 70-75 pitches by Han’s manager Choi Won-ho. The limited pitch count made it difficult for him to go more than five innings, but he still managed to impress with four innings of three hits (two home runs), one walk, five strikeouts, and three runs.안전놀이터

His only disappointment came against Choi Hyung-woo. He gave up a two-run double to the left-center field fence in the second inning, and in the fourth inning, he gave up a two-run double to Jung-wol with the bases loaded. He followed that up with a back-to-back homer to Socrates Brito to quickly fill the loss column. Both homers came off of Han’s fastball.

But even with a long ball that could have shaken him up, he struck out the next two batters, including the shortstop, to end the second inning, and after the back-to-back homers in the fourth, he struck out the next two batters to showcase his command. He also retired two of the next four batters, including three straight in the third inning, to end the game on a triple play, throwing just 64 pitches through four innings. With a good outing, he could have gone five innings. However, the decision to bring in Kim Ki-jung instead of Han Seung-ju in the fifth inning ended the homegrown starter’s hopes of going five innings once again. With Hanwha choosing Felix Peña (33) to start the 22nd and Ricardo Sanchez (26) to start the 23rd, the last time we’ll see a homegrown starter go more than five innings will be in the weekend series against the NC Dinos.

Han Seung-ju, Hanwha.

Hanwha’s pitching staff has been strained of late, with starters struggling to make it past five innings outside of foreign pitchers. Through 20 games, Hanwha starters have 17 quality starts, which ranks last in the league. Foreign pitchers account for nearly half of those, with seven from Peña and two from Sanchez. The last five innings pitched by a homegrown starter was Kim Min-woo (28) against the Jamsil Doosan Bears on Aug. 8, when he gave up two runs in five innings. The last quality start was Moon Dong-ju (20)’s six innings of no-hit ball with five strikeouts and one run (0 earned) against Jamsil Doosan on July 7.

Kim Min-woo has since been ruled out for up to three months with a partially torn deltoid muscle in his shoulder following his resignation against the Lotte Giants on April 14. Moon continued to falter, giving up six runs in 2⅔ innings (against the Sajik Lotte on the 13th) and two runs in four innings (against the Daejeon Kiwoom Heroes on the 7th).

Worse yet, there’s no sign of anyone other than 20-year-old Moon Dong-ju breaking the cycle. I don’t see the resources to move up from here, and I don’t see the resources to look forward to. Even Jang Min-jae (33), whose strength is digesting innings, is still a long way off. Choi Won-ho said, “Jang Min-jae is a little bit better (than when he went down), so I’ve scheduled his start for around Friday (23rd) or Saturday (24th). “It’s not that he can’t pitch, it’s that his fork, his main weapon, has become dull due to the decline in his velocity,” Choi said. “If his velocity recovers to some extent, there’s no reason not to use him. If his velocity recovers, we’ll decide after Friday’s game whether to use him right away as a starter or to give him confidence by pitching him in a team game where he was strong in the bullpen.”

Moon Dong-ju, who is the only other pitcher in the rotation, could also make one more start depending on the outcome of his next outing. If that happens, we may not see a quality start from a homegrown starter for a while, barring a surprise performance. “Moon Dong-ju is thinking about taking a break (from the rotation) after seeing the next game and discussing with the coaching staff,” Choi Won-ho said, “But I think Sunday’s game (against Kiwoom on the 18th) was better than Tuesday’s game (against Sasik Lotte on the 13th). Throwing nearly 100 pitches in four innings (94 pitches) is pretty bad, but I think it’s okay because our expectations are so high that we were able to keep the runs to a minimum (two runs),” he said.

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