KIA’s long-awaited return to the first team is now within reach for the core of its outfield and its top prospects. Outfielder Na Sung-beom (34), who hasn’t played a single game this year due to a calf injury, and infielder Kim Do-young (20), who suffered a foot injury in the season-opening series that sidelined him for an extended period of time.
Aside from the huge potential that has everyone excited, Kim has yet to prove himself with the first team. It would be great to have a sense of what he’s capable of in camp, but it’s also important to take it easy on him and keep an eye on him. Na Sung-bum, on the other hand, is different. He already has his number in the first team. It’s not unreasonable to expect that if he comes back healthy, he’ll be able to put up those numbers after a bit of an adjustment period.
After being frustrated with his rehabilitation, which took longer than expected, Na started playing in the Futures League (second team) on the 20th. On the 20th, he went 1-for-3 against Lotte’s second team, and on the 21st, he went 1-for-2 with a solo home run to left field, one walk, and one RBI, signaling a gradual improvement in his hitting. Kia manager Kim Jong-kook, who traveled to Daejeon for the Futures League game, was able to see Nae’s hitting in person.
Before the game against Hanwha in Daejeon on the 21st, Kim said, “He hit a home run with a push. I saw him play in the Futures game, and he seemed to see the ball well and have good timing,” Kim said, adding, “It’s important to play with the defense. Even if he’s fine so far, he needs to play a lot of innings tomorrow and check his defense,” he said carefully.
Na Sung-beom is a player who should be a mainstay in the first team. With Choi Hyung-woo, who is hitting at his peak, in the designated hitter spot, Na’s defense will make it easier for the KIA lineup. That’s why he’ll have a nine-inning defense test. Kim also said, “I think I’ll play as close to the end as possible tomorrow (the 22nd), and I’ll check his condition after tomorrow.” He said, “You have to feel 100 percent. It’s hard to play at full strength if you have anxiety.
However, if the rehabilitation went well and the only test is to play nine innings of defense in the Futures League, he will go straight to the first team. He could be back at some point during the three-game series against Gwangju KT starting on the 23rd. There’s no need to keep him in the second team for too long, as his offense will need to make adjustments in the first team anyway. The club and fans have been waiting for Na Sung-bum to finally join the first team.
The impact of Na’s arrival will be significant. He’s a solid center field hitter. He has proven his ability to hit long balls, as well as his batting average, run-scoring ability, and ability to solve problems. The free agent quote of 15 billion won ($15 million) over six years is not out of the blue. Considering that the current KIA outfield is a bit shaky defensively, it’s reasonable to expect a slight upgrade in defense. Obviously, there is a difference in weight and explosiveness between a KIA lineup with and without Na Sung-bum.
With Choi Won-jun out of the military, there is one more card to play, and with Na returning, the lineup can be built around players who are currently hitting well. The umbrella effect of Na Sung-bum was proven last year. However, whether his return can dramatically upgrade the KIA lineup remains to be seen. While he’ll certainly help the batting lineup and could add a few more wins in the long run, he can’t single-handedly carry the team to a 5+% record. It’s not like he’s going to be the only one with a chance right now.
It’s easy to get excited about a team’s performance when certain players return from injury and others return to form, but baseball doesn’t work that way. While the KIA offense is currently struggling in terms of explosiveness and resolution, it’s the mound that’s a bigger problem. The starting rotation is jagged, and the bullpen, which has pitched a lot, is starting to show signs of fatigue.
KIA’s .252 team batting average in June ranks near the bottom of the league, but with returning talent, that number could gradually revert to its season average (.261), which isn’t bad. The same goes for the runners in scoring position. On the mound, however, it’s not so easy to bounce back once you’re tired. KIA’s 5.15 team ERA in June ranks ninth in the league. This is a red flag considering they were first in the league in May with a 3.08 team ERA.바카라
Adonis Medina, one of the mainstays of the foreign starters, has blown a huge hole in the rotation in June, lasting just 14⅔ innings in four games. Shawn Anderson is in the process of normalizing his performance, while Yang Hyun-jong Lee and Yoon Young-chul’s innings have been up and down depending on the game. The bullpen has also been up and down. As of the 21st, KIA’s starting pitch count was 1431 pitches, but the bullpen count was 1272 pitches, and even that was concentrated in a few players, including Choi Ji-min (162 pitches), Lim Ki-young (159 pitches), Jang Hyun-sik (186 pitches), Hwang Dong-ha (164 pitches), and Kim Yoo-shin (134 pitches).
Against Hanwha in Daejeon on April 21, the mound collapsed early, giving up six runs in the middle of the game, which ultimately cost them the game (3-7 loss). Even with Na Sung-bum, giving up more than seven runs usually results in a loss. We need to find a way to manage the innings of our starters and the fatigue of our bullpen in order to make a late-game comeback. One option is to replace Medina if necessary. If the timing of the overhaul is missed, the repercussions could be devastating. It’s time to revisit why KIA had a rough August and September last year.