Choi Won-jun, who dominated KIA’s bats, wants to refine his changeup from ‘KBO Legends’

Doosan Bears veteran sidearm Choi Won-jun pitched well in the team’s final batting practice before the start of the regular season. The right-hander pitched his way into the starting rotation and helped the team win its fifth straight exhibition game.

Doosan pulled off a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over KIA in the 2024 Shinhan SOL BANK KBO Playoffs on Friday at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. After winning the first two games of the exhibition series against the Kiwoom Heroes on Sept. 9 and 10, Doosan swept Lotte on Sept. 11 and Kia the day before to extend its winning streak to five games.

Doosan got a strong start from veteran sidearm Choi Won-jun. Choi allowed one run on four hits and one walk in five innings. He was aggressive and didn’t give up a single four-pitch walk.

His pitches were sharp. He topped out at 141 mph and averaged 139 mph with a fastball and a mix of sliders, changeups, and curves. His pitch count was perfectly controlled: 10 in the first, 16 in the second, five in the third, 13 in the fourth, and nine in the fifth. With his steady delivery, he was able to quickly get into a rhythm and get outs easily.

Choi was in even better form against KIA after a solid outing in the opening game of the exhibition series against the Kiwoom Heroes on Sept. 9, pitching three innings of four-hit ball with one run, one hit, one walk and two strikeouts. He will enter the 2024 season as the fourth starter behind Raul Alcantara, Brandon Waddell, and Uribe.

After the game, Choi said, “It was my last appearance in the exhibition game, so it was good to find out both what I liked and what I need to improve,” adding, “I was satisfied with my fastball, curveball, and slider, but I think I need to improve my changeup, which I prepared during the off-season.”

“I decided to throw five innings regardless of pitch count to check on the pitchers behind me. Today’s game was helped by the defense rather than pitch count management,” he said. “The team has been showing good overall performance during the exhibition games so far, and we promise to continue the momentum and reward the fans with good results in the season.”

Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop also expressed his satisfaction with the pitching, saying, “Starting pitcher Choi Won-jun did his job.” Before the game, Lee announced the bullpen move of Lee Young-ha, another fourth-round pick, to the bullpen, signaling the completion of the opening day rotation.

“In 2020, his first full-time season as a starter, Choi went 10-2 with a 3.80 ERA in 42 games and 123 innings pitched. In 2021, he went 12-4 with a 3.30 ERA in 29 games and 158 1/3 innings as the Bears’ native ace.

Choi continued his dominance in the 2022 season, going 8-13 with a 3.60 ERA in 30 games and 165 innings pitched. While he was unable to reach double-digit 토토 wins for the third consecutive season as Doosan finished ninth in the league, he proved to be a reliable starter.

Choi Won-joon, however, struggled in 2023, going 3-10 with a 4.93 ERA in 26 games and 107⅔ innings. Unlike previous years, when he was guaranteed a starting spot, this year’s competition was fierce.

Choi struggled all year to rebound. He even traveled to Japan for personal training after returning from a break. He learned a changeup from new Doosan first-team pitching coach Cho Woong-chun and has been perfecting it since spring training.

During his playing days, Cho made a name for himself as a sidearm pitcher with a “masterpiece changeup”. He was the inaugural holder of the 2000 season with the Hyundai Unicorns (disbanded in 2008) and the 2003 season saves leader with the SK Wyverns (now the SSG Landers). His 813 career appearances rank third on the all-time list.

“I taught him how to grip his changeup differently than before, and he trained hard,” said Cho Woong-chun. “If he can perfect his changeup, we can expect good things from him this year.”

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