The news NC Dinos and the Asian Games team have been waiting for is finally here. The plans for the return of ‘left-handed ace’ Koo Chang-mo (26) are being revealed. Will he be able to board the plane to Hangzhou, even if it means appearing in an unfamiliar position?
“If he can only throw 30 to 40 pitches with 100 percent intensity, we plan to put him on the N team (first team) and start him in the bullpen,” NC manager Kang Myung-ho (51) said before the team’s 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League home game against the Lotte Giants at Changwon NC Park on Tuesday.
According to the NC team, Koo Chang-mo threw bullpen pitches at Masan Baseball Stadium, where the rehabilitation team is located, three times on the 5th, 7th, and 10th. On the first pitch, he threw 30 pitches, 10 at normal distance and 20 in front of home plate, and then threw all 30 pitches at normal distance. On the 10th, he upped the ante to 50 pitches, throwing 30 fastballs and 20 changeups.
“He checked all his pitches, including his changeup, at 70% strength,” Kang said. “He doesn’t seem to have any other discomfort after pitching, and it will be important to see how much he increases his intensity in the future. He will continue to pitch by increasing the intensity step by step.”
After three months on the sidelines, Koo’s recovery is slow but steady
Koo hasn’t pitched for the first team in over three months since June 2 against the LG Twins in Jamsil. After facing just one batter, he felt discomfort in his arm and was forced to leave the mound unexpectedly early.
After a medical examination, Koo was diagnosed with a micro-damage to his left forearm flexor, and was placed on the injured list (IL). He traveled to Japan to try to recover quickly, but in late June, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the ulna in his left arm. In 2021, Koo had a similar problem in the same area and underwent surgery, which cost him the entire second half of the season.
Koo’s injury was the first in a series of departures from the NC starting lineup in June. Lee Jae-hak (foot fracture) and Eric Peddie (forearm soreness) went down with injuries, and Yoo Yong-jun, who started off strong, was dropped to the second team. Add to that the loss of left-hander Choi Sung-young, who had joined the rotation as Koo Chang-mo’s replacement, with an orbital fracture, and NC was faced with a selection problem for a while.
After the injury, Koo’s recovery was slow, leading some to speculate that he might be out for the season. In fact, by the beginning of August, he was still unable to train despite repeated checkups. By the end of August, however, he was playing catch and gradually preparing to pitch.
Why is Chang-Mo Koo returning to the bullpen in an ‘unfamiliar spot’?
However, when Koo returns to the first team, he will return to the bullpen instead of starting. “If he can pitch in the C-team (second team) games, if he thinks it will take too long to start, we plan to put him on the first team when he can throw 3-40 pitches at 100% and start in the bullpen,” Kang explained.
Aside from a 30-game relief stint (nine starts) in 2016, his first season in the big leagues, Koo has been a starter for most of his career, especially since 2019, when he became a full-fledged starter, and has pitched just five games out of the bullpen. So why would the NC want to move him back to the bullpen? It’s because of the national team.
Koo was selected as a wildcard for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games roster, which was announced in early June. “There were some injured athletes, but all of them had minor injuries and we thought they could recover enough in the remaining three months to join the team,” explained Cho Gye-hyun, head of the National Strength and Conditioning Committee at the time. Catcher Kim Hyung-jun (NC), who, like Koo Chang-mo, was out with an injury at the time, has been gaining experience in the first team lately, but Koo is still unable to pitch. This raises the possibility of a roster change.
South Korea’s first game at the Asian Games will be on the first of next month against Hong Kong. With 20 days to go, it’s not easy for Koo Chang-mo to get in shape for a starting role through rehabilitation and practice pitches. For now, he’s being used as a reliever to help the national team make a decision. “I think the national team will have to decide if he can participate in the Asian Games by starting in the bullpen with the first team and increasing his pitch count,” Kang said. There is no time to wait until he can be a starter,” Kang said.
There is also the will of Koo Chang-mo himself. “I talked to him and he said he wants to start in the bullpen, so if his strength is 100 percent and he doesn’t have any injury issues, we’ll start him in the bullpen,” Kang said. If it works, Gu could make a dramatic move to Hangzhou.
“Bullpen” Chang-Mo Koo is temporary “I need to give him a starting spot in fall baseball”
Changmo’s addition to the bullpen could help the pitching staff in the short term. “It will probably be a little easier (to manage the game),” Kang said. “It’s all about how he feels in the game,” he said, adding, “I think we need to check that part as well,” such as whether he can pitch in consecutive games.
However, it is unlikely that Koo will continue to pitch out of the bullpen until the end of the year. “If we go to fall baseball, we have to give him the starting spot,” Kang said.
Looking at NC’s current starting lineup, there are reasons why Koo should be in the lineup in the postseason. Currently, NC has a rotation of Tanner Tully, Lee Jae-hak, Song Myung-ki, Shin Min-hyuk, and Choi Sung-young, led by their unwavering ace Pedi. However, outside of Lee Jae-hak and Song Myung-gi, none of them have much postseason experience, and even then, it’s hard to say that they’ve fully settled in this year.
He doesn’t have a lot of experience starting in fall baseball, but he did make two starts in the 2020 Korean Series, going 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA and helping his team win the title. With that in mind, Koo should definitely be back in the starting rotation.먹튀검증
After signing an extension with NC ahead of this season, Koo went 1-3 with a 3.26 ERA in nine appearances. After a shaky start, he quickly found his footing, but an injury halted his progress. Having gotten a feel for the game in relief, will he be able to make a healthy return to the starting rotation?