‘I couldn’t even finish with 10 SVs…’ Lotte’s Hwan-Gol Taltae, Koo Seung-min and Kim Won-joong have been in place for four years

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The Lotte Giants once had a difficult season without a solid finish. But now they have two solid pitching staffs. And they’ve had them for four seasons.

Lotte right-handers Koo Seung-min (33) and Kim Won-joong (30) took the mound side-by-side in their 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League home game against the NC Dinos at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on March 23.

Koo Seung-min, who took the mound in the top of the eighth inning with his team leading 2-0, hit pinch-hitter Park Min-woo with a fly to center field. After getting Son Asub to ground out to second base, he struck out Park Young-bin on a swinging strikeout to end the first inning with a triple play.

In the ninth inning, Kim Won-joong came in for the final out. He got off to a shaky start, giving up a leadoff single to Park Gun-woo in left field, but then threw five forkballs to No. 4 Jason Martin for a swinging strikeout. He then got Park Se-hyuk to fly out to shortstop and Yoon Hyung-jun to ground out in front of the third baseman for the team’s 27th out.

This was the 10th hold of the season for Koo Seung-min and the 10th save of the season for Kim Won-joong. Koo became the second player this season to reach double-digit holds, joining Noh Kyung-eun (SSG, 11). Kim Won-joong also moved into a tie for second on the team in saves with Hong Gun-hee (Doosan). Both players also recorded 10 holds and 10 saves for the fourth consecutive year, the first time in franchise history.

Koo Seung-min, who had 14 saves in the 2018 season, also served as the closer for a time in the middle of the season, but struggled with a 6.25 ERA the following year. A determined Koo Seung-min became Lotte’s backstop, winning 20 saves in 2020, 20 in 2021, and 26 last year.

Kim Won-joong, who was given many opportunities as a starter but was unable to establish himself, also made the switch to the bullpen in 2020, his ninth year in the organization, and made a successful transition with 25 saves that year. He followed that up with 35 saves in 2021, ranking second in that category. Last season, despite a late start due to injury, he recorded 17 saves, and this year he reached double-digit saves in 20 games. 안전놀이터

Lotte hasn’t produced a league-leading closer since turning pro in 1982, with Oh Seung-hwan (41-Samsung), Kim Yong-soo (63-retired), and Koo Dae-sung (54-retired) the last three. There have been no saves titles either, with the exception of John Atkins (26 saves) in 2009 and Son Seung-rak (37 saves) in 2017, but they were foreigners and free agents, respectively, so they weren’t homegrown resources. Of the two holders (Im Kyung-wan in 2004 and Oh Hyun-taek in 2018), Im Kyung-wan (48) was the first pick (1998).

Lotte has struggled in the bullpen. In 2010, when the team boasted a nuclear batting lineup represented by “Joe-Dae-Hong-Gal” (Cho Sung-hwan, Dae-ho Lee, Sung-hoon Hong, and Karim Garcia), the most saves was seven by Lim Kyung-wan. In 2015, Shim Soo-chang (42) recorded the most saves with five. As a result, Lotte fans were left with tailgate anxiety.

However, Son Seung-rak, who signed as a free agent in 2016, was responsible for 94 saves in four years, and after his retirement, Kim Won-joong and Koo Seung-min emerged to form the core of the bullpen. It’s a different look than before.

After achieving the record, Koo Seung-min said, “It took me a long time to get the record. I wasn’t throwing well for a while, but today (23rd) I threw satisfactorily, so I feel good,” he said. “I could have gotten impatient because it was the ninth inning, but it wasn’t difficult,” he said, adding, “I hope the younger players can follow along and grow together.”

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