2018 1st round pick → Tommy John surrender → Kwak Bin reaches 10 wins for the first time in 6 years as a pro “I reached 10 wins at the right time. The aces of the Asian Games were Seung Yi and Dong Joo.”

Doosan Baseball Organization right-hander Kwak Bin Kwak has pitched his best game of the season, earning his first double-digit win since his professional debut in 2018.

Kwak-Bin started a home game against SSG in the 2023 KBO League at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Friday and threw 102 pitches over eight innings, allowing just four hits and three walks. He struck out five. As Doosan won 10-1, Kwak Bin earned his 10th win of the season (6-0). It was the first time in his career that Kwak-Bin reached the 10-win plateau after turning pro in 2018, going 3-1 with one save and four holds that year, 4-7 in 2021, and 8-9 last year. His joy was doubled when he lowered his ERA, which stood at 2.97 before the game, to 2.74 with eight scoreless innings of relief.

A first-round pick of Doosan in 2018 out of Bae Myung Go, Kwak-Bin appeared in 32 games that year and posted a 7.55 ERA, but he stuck in the minds of fans for his fastball. However, his season was cut short due to elbow pain, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in October of that year to repair the ligaments in his elbow.

After missing the entire 2019 and 2020 seasons due to surgery and rehabilitation, Kwak-Bin transformed into a starter in 2021 and played his first full season as a rookie. He struggled with his velocity, walking a whopping 79 batters in 98.2 innings, but showed promise as he finished the season healthy. In 2022, he threw 147.2 innings, his first full season as a professional. He pitched nearly 50 more innings than the previous season, while striking out 60 batters. His ERA improved from 4.10 in 2021 to 3.78 in 2022, proving that he has the stuff to be a top-tier homegrown starter. His strong second half earned him a spot on the national team.

In 2023, he finally unleashed his potential, especially in April, when he pitched 30.2 innings in five games, giving up just three earned runs (six hits) and posting a monthly ERA of just 0.88. His pitches are still a work in progress. Prior to this game, he was walking 4.02 batters per nine innings, up from 3.66 in the 2022 season. However, his fastball, which tops out at 150 mph, has lowered his BABIP to 0.199, which is more than five points lower than in 2022 (0.253), and he is on pace for his first career double-digit ERA.

His opponent on the mound will be SSG’s homegrown ace, Kim Kwang-hyun. Against a senior who will go down in history, not just in the KBO, but in the history of the league, Kwak-Bin’s fastball dug into opposing hitters with ease. While Kim Kwang-hyun gave up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits in four innings, Kwak-bin shut down SSG’s bats. It wasn’t even close until the sixth inning.

In the seventh and eighth innings, Kwak pitched a scoreless inning as the batsmen celebrated his 10th win. In the seventh, he allowed a single to Han Yoo-seom with two outs, but right fielder Kim Tae-geun made a clothesline throw to catch Kim rushing home. In the eighth, Kim Sung-hyun’s shallow foul fly was caught by Rojas in left field with runners on first and second.

With 102 pitches in the eighth inning, Lee could have gone to the mound for the final out, but he chose not to. He called up Kim Yoo-seong, who was called up to the first team, and with the score at 10-0, Kim took the mound and gave up just one run to end the game.

“I think I was the only one who was shaken up because we didn’t get a win in the first three games, but (Choi) Won-joon said it will come with practice, so I think it was mainly because I pitched today with a relaxed state of mind,” said Kwak Bin in the postgame interview. Kwak-Bin, who reached nine wins with the victory over Hanwha on the first of this month, was the losing pitcher in the games against KT on the sixth, Hanwha on the 12th, and NC on the 20th.

This was the first time he pitched eight innings in his professional debut. As he threw 102 pitches, he might have wanted to get his first complete game. “I had the desire to complete the game, but I also have the next game to pitch, so I gave up my desire in the eighth inning,” Kwak said. “It was an honor to face the best left-handed pitcher in Korea, and I believe that winning will give me a chance to grow one step further,” he added.

Kwak has struggled in the second half of games, going 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA. What was different today? “I thought I was strong in the second half, but this year I was faltering in the second half, so I think I thought, ‘Why not? The pitching coach and the pitching staff also told me that there was no problem with my form or delivery. Coach Lee Young-soo gave me a lot of mental advice, so I think it worked out well to change my mentality to a positive one. Also, the batters supported us with seven runs early on, so I was more focused,” said Kim.

Kim Tae-geun, who started in right field, drove in the game’s first run with a leadoff single in his debut, and also provided a crucial assist in the seventh inning to keep Kwak Bin’s no-hitter alive. “Before I could say thank you, (Kim) Tae-geun told me that I pitched well. He is also my Bae Myung-go senior. So I trusted him,” he said.

In addition to his fastball, Kwak-Bin was also seen utilizing his changeup. “I consciously used my curveball a lot because (Ahn) Seung-han knew that if I use it well, I can save my fastball,” Kwak said.

Kwak-bin’s path to his first 10 professional wins was full of twists and turns, including elbow surgery after being drafted in the first round. For him, his first 10 professional wins were a gift that came at the right time. “It’s nice to get my first 10 wins, but I still have a lot of baseball left to play, and I want to be a better player next year and an even better player the year after that,” he said, “I think 10 wins is about right. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be in the first team at 23. The professional barrier was so high,” he said.

When asked about his goals for this season, he said, “At the beginning of the second half of the season, I thought it would be nice to keep my ERA in the low 2s, but when I thought about it, I realized that I’ve always been a low 2s pitcher. I want to pitch a lot of innings even if it goes to 3s.”

Kwak will be traveling to the Hangzhou Asian Games next month. Kwak’s late-season struggles have led some to worry that the ace is faltering. “No matter how well I pitch, the ace of the Asian Games team is (Park) Se-woong-i Hyung (Lotte) and (Moon) Dong-joo (Hanwha). I told Dong-ju, ‘Dong-ju, you have to do it.’ We’ll do it together, so I’ll do my best,” he said. 안전놀이터

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