“I’m grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to come back to Hanwha.”
메이저놀이터 These were the words of Hanwha Eagles right-hander Lee Tae-yang (33) after picking up a start against the Changwon NC Dinos on April 16. Lee pitched five innings, throwing 63 pitches with four hits, no walks and one strikeout to lead the Eagles to a 4-3 victory. It was his first quality start for Hanwha since June 18, 2017, against the KT Wiz in Daejeon (5 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned).
After graduating from Hyochun High School, Lee was drafted by Hanwha in the fifth round (36th overall) of the 2010 Korean Rookie Draft, before moving to the SK Wyverns (now SSG Landers) in a trade in June 2020. In his three years with SSG, he gained a lot of experience as a swingman and even won the integration title last year.
He was grateful to SSG for giving him the opportunity to develop as a pitcher in a short period of time and for the championship experience, but he always had a soft spot in his heart for Chinjung Hanhwa. That’s why when she became a free agent for the first time in her life shortly after winning a championship ring, she decided to return home. Hanwha signed Lee Tae-yang to a two-year, 2.5 billion won contract and asked him to anchor the mound.
Fast forward to the end of the season. Lee has already done more than his fair share. Whether it’s as a reliever, closer, long reliever, or starter, he’s taken on the task with aplomb, and it’s paid off. In 41 appearances (three starts) this season, Lee has two wins, two holds, 60⅔ innings pitched, and a 2.37 ERA. Not to mention his leadership as a pitching coach. It’s a commitment worth 2.5 billion won.
“With a player like me, I think the manager and coach will be comfortable,” said Lee, smiling broadly.
The NC game on the 16th was the first game this year where Lee officially joined the starting rotation. She had always wanted to be a starter, but she waited for her juniors to get their chance and succeed. However, Han Seung-hyuk and Jang Min-jae were recently dropped from the starting lineup due to poor performances, and Hanwha coach Choi Won-ho finally reached out to Lee Tae-yang.
Lee Tae-yang ⓒKyung Hye-mi Reporter
He didn’t want to use the excuse that he was only pitching out of the bullpen. “I was a starter, but I didn’t feel like I could throw 60 or 70 pitches. If that’s the case, I shouldn’t be starting, but I’m already 40 games into (the season) and my body is ready. I told him that if he throws, he can throw up to 80 pitches.”
With her aggressive pitching, Lee quickly racked up outs. Of her 63 pitches, she threw 46 strikes. She used a mix of fastballs (24), sliders (17), forkballs (11), and curves (11) to keep the NC bats quiet. He had plenty of time to reach 80 pitches, but he didn’t get greedy and handed the ball off to Joo Hyun-sang in the sixth inning, as he did in his first five innings of work this year.
He was overwhelmed with emotion after getting his first start for Hanwha in 2250 days. “It feels great to be back in a Hanwha uniform and get a start,” said Lee. I was away for a while, but I always had a love for Hanwha in my heart. I’m grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to come back to Hanwha.”
“I’ve always been in the bullpen, but I’ve been waiting for my chance since practice because I didn’t know when it would come. I was a free agent, so I thought it was natural for the younger guys to get the chance first. In practice, I kept working on my pitches, trying to make every pitch a little more perfect. Even when I went out to the bullpen, I had something I had been working on, and I think I was able to show it when I got my chance.”
She credits her defense for the success of her sudden return to the mound. “It was a good defense. When I’m in the bullpen, I’m trying to get strikeouts because I’m throwing short innings to suit the situation, but when I’m on the mound, I have to throw long innings, so it’s better to throw long innings with fewer pitches than strikeouts. I try to make a lot of in-play hits, and I think I had good results with good defense.”
Lee Tae-yang during his time with SSG Landers ⓒ SSG Landers
She also expressed her gratitude to SSG. “I had a great experience last year, meeting good seniors and juniors. We won the regular season and the Korean Series. Experience is something you can’t buy, and playing in such a big game, even though I wasn’t the star of the show, it broadened my perspective on baseball. I didn’t just throw the first pitch, I thought about the second and third pitches, and I didn’t chase myself in a crisis. I’m grateful for that,” he said encouragingly.
She hopes to continue pitching as hard as she has been for the rest of the season, with the goal of bringing more wins to the team. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to pitch again. I’m still a starter and I pitched one good game today (Nov. 16), so I’m not going to get carried away. It feels good to show the club and fans once again that I can be competitive as a starter,” she smiled.
Choi said to Lee Tae-yang, “She always does her job well. Even as a starter, she pitched five clean innings. She pitched really well,” Choi praised her.
Lee Tae-yang ⓒKyun Hye-mi Reporter