“It’s about 30 percent of our pre-season plan.”

The LG Twins are in second place, but manager Yoon Kyung-yeop (55) has high expectations. As the ambitious manager of the second-place team in the regular season last year, he was evaluated as a championship favorite before the season, but it sounds like a harsh assessment.

And for good reason. The starting rotation is not performing as expected. Last year, LG led the league with a team ERA of 3.33. They were able to rank so high because they had a solid starting rotation.

This season, they’re still in contention, but things are looking a little different. They’ve gotten a lot of help from a lineup that leads the team in batting average (.279). Their team ERA is 3.63, which is fourth, and they’ve lost some steam. Adam Plutko is healthy and Chan-kyu Lim is looking for a career-high season, but fifth-year outfielder Casey Kelly and last year’s breakout starter Yoon-Sik Kim are faltering. Kang Hyo-jong and Lee Ji-gang, who have been given a chance in the starting lineup, have yet to satisfy Yeom Kyung-yup. Lee Min-ho, who has returned from injury, has also been disappointing.

When we spoke to Yeom before the Samsung Lions game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Thursday, he shared his concerns about the mound. “It’s not going as planned. Both the starting pitching and the bullpen have been shaky since April with a lot of blown saves. There were many days when the starters threw two innings. It’s not as baseball as I thought it would be,” he said. “What I thought would work is Ham Deok-ju, Park Myung-geun, Yoo Young-chan, and Baek Seung-hyun. We were able to survive the bad conditions because of the four of them. Plus Chanyeol. Chanyu holds 50% of the power.”

That’s still only 30 percent of the total plan. “(Jung) Woo-young and (Lee) Jung-yong were too lost in the beginning, and (Go) Woo-seok 안전놀이터 was barely there,” Yeom said, adding, “Until then, the other four pitchers did their job. Deok-joo and Myeong-geun-i had all their saves, and Yoo Young-chan and others had all their holds.”

Above all, the rebuilding of the starting lineup is important. If the starters regain their strength, the bullpen can be relieved of the burden. “The key is in the hands of Kelly and (Lee) Sang-yi. If the starters go down, the game is over early. If Kelly and Lee do their job, we can return to some stability,” he said. “If our batting pace improves, we can extend our winning streak. Right now, we don’t have a winning streak. Four games in a row is the maximum. So far, I have to say that the normal rotation is not working,” he said in a sober assessment.

Lee Sang-young, who retired from the Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Commerce) on the 12th, got the chance to start. Lee, who was drafted in 2019, showed promise as a bullpen pitcher before enlisting and raised expectations in the Futures (second-tier) League with an 8-1 record and 2.63 ERA in nine games this season.

He threw 65 pitches in four innings, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks with one strikeout. He was impressive in the first and second innings, not allowing a run after putting runners on base. In the third inning, his pitches were shaky and he allowed a hit-by-pitch and a walk, and he gave up a double to Jose Pirela in the second inning, but he got out of the fourth inning without giving up any more runs. Yoon plans to give Lee another month or so of steady work and see what happens.

Kelly’s role is also important here. Kelly is in her fifth season in South Korea. As a foreigner, where every season’s report card is a measure of contract extension, being a five-year veteran is a badge of honor.

This season, however, has been nothing like the previous one. After going 1-2 with a 5.66 ERA in six games in April, Kelly rebounded with a 4-1 record and 2.73 ERA in five games in May, but he faltered in his latest outing, allowing six runs on four hits and five walks in 1⅔ innings.

He also expressed frustration with the call, but Yeom said, “You have to overcome that,” and pointed out that “if it’s a hit, it’s a hit.”

When asked if Kelly might be replaced, Yeom said, “It’s still… (premature).” “If we have a good player, we can’t change Kelly easily,” he said. However, it was clear to see that he was thinking hard about Kelly.

The best thing would be for Lee Sang-young, who just broke into the first team, and Kelly, who played well in May, to make a solid impression on Yeom. This would also free up the faltering Kim Yun-sik and Lee Min-ho. The bullpen will also be easier to manage.

With LG aiming to win the Korean Series for the first time in 29 years since 1994, the bar is set high. In June, Kelly and Lee Sang-young will have a heavy burden on their shoulders to stabilize the mound.

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