After being stripped of the title of homegrown ace this season and becoming the team’s losingest pitcher, Choi Won-jun was not discouraged. After working hard with constant advice from “15.2 billion catcher” Yang Ji, spring has finally arrived.
On April 7, Choi started the 12th game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against KIA at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul and threw five innings of four-hit ball, walked one, struck out one, and threw 59 pitches to earn the win. He showed off his steady control against KIA, which had won nine straight games, to pick up his third win of the season (9 losses) in exactly 60 days since his last start against Jamsil Kiwoom on July 9. He pitched so well that it was a shame he was unable to continue pitching due to a blister on his finger.
Choi said after the game, “My finger is fine. “I tried not to give them a lead because the atmosphere and the hitting was so good, and I thought that if I did that, our bullpen would be able to protect me from behind. I didn’t think about five or six innings, I just did my best one inning at a time,” Choi said after the game.
Choi, the 2017 first-round pick of Doosan, won 10 games in his debut in 2020, followed by 12 in 2021 and eight in 2022 to establish himself as a homegrown ace. His career high came in 2021, when he went 12-4 with a 3.30 ERA in 29 games, leading the team to the Korean Series for the first time in seven years. At the time, the KBO’s leading submarine starter was Choi Won-jun, not Ko Young-pyo (KT).
This year, Choi prepared for the season with the title of homegrown ace. However, a completely unexpected scenario prevented him from doing so. From the start of the season until mid-May, he pitched seven games with three quality starts and one quality start, but he was extremely unlucky to win, going 1-3, and from the end of May, his slump began and he lost nine games, the most on the team. This is second in the league behind Lotte’s Han Hyun-hee (10 losses).
Choi tasted the bitter taste of a bullpen demotion on August 13 against Daejeon Hanwha when he was pulled early after giving up four runs in 1⅓ innings. Since then, he’s made four appearances in the bullpen, going winless with a 1.69 ERA.
“It’s right that a better player should go first. I accepted the move to the bullpen because I was not good and was an inconvenience to the team.” “In the bullpen, I practiced throwing short and hard. I was thinking about the outcome too much, so my confidence dropped, but I pitched confidently without thinking about it, so I improved a little bit.” He reflected on his time in the bullpen.
“I think there are always seasons like this in baseball. I have to play baseball next year, so I can’t fall behind here and I have to compete with the juniors. Today’s win gave me a little more confidence,” he said, adding that the third win of the season was especially meaningful.
Choi Won-jun also credits Yang Ji’s extraordinary mental care for his rebound. Yang’s warm words of advice helped him get through the tough times. “I’m very grateful to him,” Choi said. I was originally scheduled to start on Tuesday (the 5th), but my brother, who played in four games, offered to catch for me if I went out. I’m really grateful,” he said, adding, “I’ve had a lot of trouble this year, but he’s been by my side, helping me and saying a lot of good things, and I think that’s why I’m holding up so well.”
When asked what kind of advice he received, he said, “My brother (Yang) also had a hard time playing baseball until now. He told me not to think too much about it and to keep it simple on the mound because it’s not just me. I was shaken because people around me said that my pitches had dropped a lot, but he instilled confidence in me that there was nothing wrong with me, so I was able to achieve such a good result.”
“I also want to thank my LG brother Lim Chan-kyu, who said so many good things to me during the LG game last week,” he added.
Choi Won-jun finally showed signs of rebounding on Sunday, earning a spot back in the starting rotation. Doosan is expected to reshuffle its starting rotation with Raul Alcantara, Brandon Waddell, Kwak Bin, Choi Won-jun and Choi Seung-yong after a four-game series, including a doubleheader against Samsung over the weekend. With Kwak-Bin set to be called up for the Asian Games later this month, Choi’s performance was more than welcome.스포츠토토
“If I hadn’t pitched today, another pitcher would have had a chance,” Choi said. I always think about that,” he said, adding, “This is a competitive place, so you can’t ask for special treatment. I can only show it with my performance,” he said.