The Lotte Giants have a new weapon. Third-year sidearm Woo Kang-hoon (21), whose name may not even be familiar to many, made an impressive showing in his first-team debut.
Woo came on in relief of Kim Sang-soo in the top of the eighth inning with his team trailing 1-5 in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League home game against the LG Twins at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on Friday. It was Woo’s first time on a first-team mound since joining the professional ranks.
Facing the first batter, Jeong Ju-hyun, Woo unleashed a series of mid-to-high 140-kilometer-per-hour fastballs, or “snakeballs,” as they are called. A four-pitch fastball was hit by Jung, but he was unable to extend it and it ended up in the right fielder’s glove. After inducing a fly ball to left field without getting physical against veteran Seo Geon-chang, Woo threw three consecutive changeups to Kim Bum-seok in the sixth, inducing a grounder to third base.
Woo stayed on the mound in the ninth inning. After getting leadoff hitter Son Ho-young to ground out to third, he fired four straight outside pitches to pinch-hitter Kim Ki-yeon before inducing a swinging strike with his fifth pitch, a high fastball on the body. Woo struck out left-hander Shin Min-jae on an eight-pitch pitch to end the game.
Woo finished the day with two perfect innings, striking out six batters and walking two. According to Lotte, Woo threw a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, with his fastball reaching a whopping 151 kilometers per hour. That’s a lot of velocity for a side arm.
SBS Sports commentator Kim Tae-hyung (56), who commentated on the game, was in awe of Woo’s pitching. “The ball itself can give a passing grade in the first team,” he said, adding, “It’s flexible and has a good arm swing. In particular, he praised the high fastball that struck out Kim Ki-yeon, saying, “If it goes in like that, it’s not going to be easy to hit Woo Kang-hoon’s pitches.” Kim, who won three championships and 645 career wins as Doosan’s manager, was recognized by the master.
After the game, Woo Kang-hoon told Star News, “I wasn’t nervous before I went out, but I was nervous in practice. However, once I got one batter, I felt more relaxed and threw my ball.” “I kept missing in practice, but senior Yoo Kang-nam said, ‘Hit it and throw it with confidence,’ so I believed him,” he said, adding, “I just looked at the center and kept throwing.”
After he finished pitching, Lotte fans at Sajik Baseball Stadium gave him a thunderous round of applause. “It was so good, and it was even better because it was my first start,” he said. “As soon as I got up there, I heard the fans cheering for every single ball, so I threw harder.”
Woo Kang-hoon, who graduated from Hopedae Choe, Masongjoong, and Yatapgo, was selected by Lotte in the fifth round of the 2021 KBO Rookie Draft. At the time, Lotte had swept up a number of prospects, including catcher Son Sung-bin (first round pick), pitcher Kim Jin-wook, and infielder Na Seung-yup (second round pick), and Woo Kang-hoon was part of the “golden draft”.
But before he could even begin his professional career, Woo underwent Tommy John surgery (elbow ligament reconstruction) to rehabilitate, and in late 2021, he enlisted as an active duty soldier in the Army to fulfill his military obligations. “In the army, I continued to play baseball, and although I couldn’t throw the ball much, my body grew a lot by focusing on weight training,” Woo said. He also kept his senses sharp by playing catch with teammate Hong Min-ki, 22, who chose to enlist with him.
Woo, who was discharged midway through the season, pitched 16 games for the second team, posting a 4.38 ERA in three appearances with no wins or losses. “My pitches weren’t good in the beginning,” he said, “but they got better as I kept throwing.” He also credits veteran Shin Jeong-rak, 36, a fellow side-arm pitcher, with helping him with his changeup.
“When I was a student, I only threw curveballs, but as a pro, I kept practicing sliders and changeups,” Woo said. “I’ve only been practicing sliders for a month, but they seem to work well, so I use them in games.”토토사이트
After the conclusion of the Futures League schedule, Lotte promoted Woo Kang-hoon from developmental player to full-time player and registered him in the first team ahead of the last four games. “I was training with the first team before I was called up, but I was so happy to be called up right after my birthday,” he said. He shared the news of his call-up on his family’s instant messenger, where he received many congratulations and pitched in front of his family in his debut.
Although Lotte went 3-5 in five games, their fall baseball dreams are looking increasingly distant. However, the presence of a new face at the end of the season is a small consolation for fans.