‘Delayed return of Koo Chang-Mo + injuries to Lee Jae-Hak’ NC to be truly tested

The cruising NC Dinos have hit a major bump in the road.

NC, which is in third place with 35 wins, one draw, and 29 losses as of 24 games ago, has been plagued by a series of departures of starting pitchers since the beginning of the season. Right-handed foreign pitcher Taylor Widener made a late debut after being sidelined by herniated disc neurosis, while Song Myung-ki and Shin Min-hyuk, who had shown good form early on, dropped out of the starting rotation due to sudden slumps.

The reason NC didn’t fall to the bottom of the standings, however, was because the players who stepped in showed good form. These include third-year pro right-hander Lee Yong-jun (3-3 with a 3.46 ERA) and veteran right-handed sidearm pitcher Lee Jae-hak (2-1 with a 2.70 ERA). In addition, all-weather left-hander Choi Sung-young (4-0 with a 2.57 ERA) has stepped up to the plate after native left-handed ace Koo Chang-mo was sidelined with a left forearm flexor strain.안전놀이터

NC Dinos manager Kang In-hwa. Photo by Kim Young-gu
With these replacements, NC was able to maintain a top-tier performance. Then came the hard part: the departure of Eric Pedi, who had established himself as the best foreign ace this year. After going 10-1 with a 1.74 ERA this season, he was removed from the first team roster on April 14 with a right forearm strain. Kang filled the void with Shin Min-hyuk, who was initially being readjusted in the second team.

But the injury bug had no intention of letting NC go. On the 20th against the LG Twins in Changwon (8-4 NC victory), Choi Sung-young was unfortunate enough to be hit in the face by a pitch and suffered an orbital fracture.

Fortunately, he reportedly didn’t need to undergo surgery, but a four- to six-week layoff was inevitable. Kang then explained that Pedi, who has been improving his fitness, would step into the starting lineup in place of Choi Sung-young.

The bad news didn’t stop there. Speaking before the 23rd game against the Changwon Hanwha Eagles (2-6 NC loss), Kang said about the timing of Koo Chang-mo’s return, who returned home the same day from rehabilitation in Japan, “I think we’ll have to wait a little longer. At first, I thought he wouldn’t be back before the All-Star break, but I think it will be difficult. I think I’ll be back in the second half of the season,” he sighed. Initially, he was expected to return at the end of the first half.

In addition, Lee Jae-hak, who has been showing the quality of a veteran, is also leaving. On the 22nd, while starting against the Changwon LG Electronics (3-4 NC loss), he was hit in the foot by a pitch. The diagnosis was a fracture of the 1st metatarsal in his left foot. As a result, Lee was removed from the first team roster.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Kang, “and I’m thinking about a replacement. I’m thinking about choosing between Jeon Jae-min and Shin Young-woo.”

“With so many injuries in the starting lineup, the bullpen is overloaded, and there are parts of the game where we’re not performing well. I hope the starters can get back on track quickly.”

Widener (6 innings, 6 hits, 1 HR, 5 walks, 2 strikeouts, 6 runs, 5 earned runs), who started against Hanwha on the 23rd, also failed to deliver a good pitching performance, deepening Kang’s woes.

NC, which has been hanging in there despite a string of departures, boasting of a “fire mound,” will now face a real test.