N.C. native lefty ace set for first start since returning from injury, proves healthy and competitive to punch ticket to Hangzhou
Can Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos) stay healthy and show off his stuff in his first start since returning from injury and make the flight to Hangzhou?
Koo will take the mound against the KT Wiz of the Futures (2nd Division) League at Iksan Baseball Stadium on April 19.
It will be his first start since returning from injury. After being removed from the first team roster on June 3 with a micro-damage to his left flexor muscle, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in late June. Previously, Koo missed about three months in the second half of the 2020 season with a similar injury, and in 2021, he missed the entire season after undergoing surgery to fix a fatigue fracture in his ulna. This time, the injury was reportedly in a different area, but it was a very sensitive area, and many were concerned.메이저놀이터
Koo Chang-mo’s physical condition has also been a concern not only for him and the NC team, but also for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games baseball team led by Ryu Joong-il. Despite the news of his injury, Ryu and the team’s strength and conditioning committee included him in the roster in June.
The reasoning was clear. Koo is a left-hander who, when healthy, is best described as the league’s best ace. Drafted by NC with the third overall pick in the 2015 second round, he went 46-34 with a 3.74 ERA in 163 games (628.2 innings) through last year. He reached double-digit wins in 2019 (10) and 2022 (11), and went 9-0 with a 1.74 ERA in the 2020 season, which was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to help NC win the overall title.
Looking to the future, the squad was built around young players. Wild-card pick Koo Chang-mo was expected to be the leader of the pitching staff. However, his delayed return sparked speculation that he would be replaced, and he is no longer guaranteed a spot in Hangzhou.
In fact, Koo has been plagued by injuries since his debut, never completing a single regulation inning. He suffered a right adductor muscle injury in 2019, a stress fracture in his lower back the same year, and, as mentioned earlier, a stress fracture in his left forearm in 2020. This left him on the operating table in 2021, followed by a hamstring injury in 2022, and even this year, he hasn’t been injury-free, putting a red flag on his chances of making the national team.
For Koo, this tournament is very important. If he wins a gold medal, he will be eligible for special military service. However, if he is dropped from the team or fails to win gold, he will have to enlist in the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps after the season.
The clock on Koo’s comeback started ticking in late August. He started by playing catch and threw his first bullpen session at Masan Baseball Stadium on August 5. After throwing 20 pitches at a short distance, he immediately followed it up with 10 pitches at a normal distance. On the 7th, he threw 30 pitches at normal distance, and on the 10th, he threw 50 pitches at normal distance with a 6-to-4 ratio of fastballs to changeups.
Koo, who is considering switching to the bullpen upon his return to the national team, then threw two innings of 15 pitches each, totaling 30 pitches, in a live pitching session at Masan Baseball Stadium on the 13th. On the 16th, he was scheduled to start the Futures League game against Sangmu at Masan Baseball Stadium, but the game was canceled due to rain and he was replaced by a bullpen pitch. It was reported that his pitching balance and delivery were better than before.
He will finally make his first start since returning from injury today against the KT Futures team at the Iksan Baseball Stadium. “Koo Chang-mo will go to Iksan on Tuesday (19th) and pitch a maximum of two innings and 30 pitches,” said NC manager Kang Myung-ho, who met with him recently, “and we’ll see how it goes. We’ll check how he feels after he throws.”
While there are some concerns because he’s picking up the pace so quickly, Kang says he’s in very good shape. “I heard that (Koo) felt good when he pitched in the bullpen today (Nov. 16). He said he didn’t feel any discomfort, and he said he felt good himself,” Kang said, adding, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his body, but it might be different from the actual game, so we’ll have to see.”
Realistically, Koo doesn’t have much time. The national team convenes on the 23rd, and the competition schedule starts in early October. To make it to Hangzhou, Gu will need to prove that he is not only healthy but also rust-free.