The expanded roster is implemented every September 1 to give prospects a chance and prevent overuse injuries to existing players who have played over 100 games. The SSG Landers registered four pitchers, but the role of Noh Kyung-eun, 39, remained unchanged.
Noh pitched ⅔ innings of two-hit ball with two walks, one strikeout and one run against the Hanwha Eagles at Daejeon’s Hanwha Life Eagles Park on Sunday in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League regular season opener for both teams.
He came on in what could have been a game-winning situation. In the bottom of the seventh inning, with SSG leading 3-1, Song Young-jin singled to right off Choi Jae-hoon, followed by a double to right-center off Lee Do-yoon, putting runners on second and third, and Noh came to the mound. As the most reliable bullpen pitcher on the team, SSG’s choice seemed obvious. However, the three-game series was not easy for Noh, who was under pressure. After a perfect first two games, one inning of one-hit, no-strikeout ball (12 pitches) and one inning of one-hit, one-strikeout ball (16 pitches), respectively, the aftermath showed.
Noh gave up a sacrifice fly to left field to pinch-hitter Moon Hyun-bin and an RBI single up the middle to pinch-hitter Nick Williams to tie the game at 3-3. She then gave up a straight-up walk to Noh to put runners on first and second with one out and Chae Eun-sung singling to left. After walking Kim Tae-yeon on an automatic double play, Choi In-ho struck out swinging to put out the fire, but she was unable to get any support from her team’s bats and took the loss.
This season, Noh has been a key part of SSG’s bullpen with an 8-4 record in 61 games, 24 holds (second in the league), two saves and a 3.72 ERA. She has stepped up to the plate whenever the team needs her, and is now the second most prolific reliever in the league with 65⅓ innings pitched. Noh, who joined SSG in 2022 after being released by the Lotte Giants in 2021, has been hailed as an “icon of human victory” after becoming a must-win pitcher for two consecutive years.
However, after a near-impregnable performance until May, he began to tire. He often pitched multi-inning and three-game streaks, which is not easy for a young pitcher. He pitched more than one inning in 20 of his 61 games, including three in a row against Hanwha. He faltered in June with an 8.71 ERA and only settled down after the All-Star break. From August 3-5, he traveled back and forth between Suwon and Busan, throwing a total of 69 pitches over the three days and picking up two saves.
Still, he needed a break. His average fastball velocity, which was up to 149 kilometers per hour (km/h) in the first half of the season according to baseball statistics site Statiz, was rarely above 146 km/h in the second half. He’ll need to stay healthy if he wants to make it through the rest of the month, which will be made even tougher by rainouts, which have become more prevalent this season. The only recourse was the September expansion roster, but a week later, there is still no pitcher in sight to share the burden of the ‘old man’.
SSG has won 61 games, tied one and lost 53 in the series against Hanwha, dropping to fourth place in 141 days since April 19. Once in title contention with the LG Twins, SSG hasn’t been able to resolve its reliance on some of its bullpen, including Noh Kyung-eun, Ko Hyo-joon (40) and Seo Jin-yong (31), and now has fall baseball to worry about. As of eight games ago, they were 8.5 games behind first-place LG and four games behind the sixth-place Doosan Bears.메이저놀이터
It’s hard to expect young pitchers to replace a 39-year-old veteran in the short term, but it’s also hard to give young pitchers a chance when you’re in a tight race for fall ball. That’s why Noh is still on the mound in crunch time, even with more pitchers. A lot of runs and a comfortable lead can give the pitching staff a break and allow managers to give younger pitchers a chance. In that sense, the offense needs to step up.