The ‘Ace’ is back in full force. Kiwoom Choi Won-tae (26) has announced his return, washing away the “nightmare” of the past three years. There will be no more ‘kukyuktu’. Shaken, but not broken.
Choi Won-tae started the first game of a three-game midweek series against Samsung in the 2023 KBO League regular season at Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Tuesday and pitched six innings of four-hit ball (one home run), three walks, five strikeouts and two runs in a Quality Start (QS).
He also earned the win. Trailing 1-2 after six innings, the bats exploded for six runs in the top of the seventh to make it 7-2. That was the final score, and Kiwoom won its third straight game. Choi Won-tae improved to 6-3.
He topped out at 149 mph with his fastball and two-seam, and his cutter was up to 142 mph. His curveball and changeup were also effective.
It was his eighth consecutive QS in as many games. It’s a personal best. He’s also had two Quality Starts Plus (QS+) in that span. In the entire season, there were only two games where he did not complete six innings.
In particular, on May 4, he struggled against Samsung Electronics in Daegu, giving up 10 runs (9 earned) in 4 innings. On the same day, he bounced back against Samsung at the same venue. It came 363 days after a five-inning no-hitter against Samsung in Daegu on June 22 last year.
In fact, they didn’t dominate the Samsung lineup for the entire game. They scored their first two runs in the bottom of the first inning on a two-run double by Jose Pirela with runners on first and second. There were quite a few scoring chances.
But aside from the home run to Pirela, he didn’t get a single hit. In total, we went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. In the first inning, he struck out Lee Jae-hyun with runners on first and second, and in the second inning, he struck out Pirela with runners on first and second.
In the fourth inning, he struck out Kim Young-woong with runners on first and second and Kim Ji-chan on a fly ball, and in the sixth inning, he struck out Ryu Seung-min with runners on second and third.
In fact, he had a rough start. He threw 26 pitches in the first inning alone. In the second, he threw 30. Fifty-six in two innings. He could have gone down early. But from the third to the sixth inning, I threw a total of 53 pitches. In total, he threw 109 pitches in six innings. That’s not an unreasonable number.
This is not the same Won-Tae Choi of last year. In the long run, it’s completely different from what we’ve seen in the past three years. Coach Hong Won-ki said, “Last year, I was bitter about Choi Won-tae. He kept stopping at seven or eight wins. He couldn’t get over the hump. He threw 50-60 pitches in the first inning or two. He just kept going and went down early.”
“I was thinking too much. I had to keep it simple and I didn’t. I kept fighting pitches, I kept throwing strikes. I made it hard on myself. I had to be confident, but I kept throwing unnecessary pitches. Even five innings with 100 pitches was tough,” he explained.
Not in 2023. “He’s been an ace since the start, going six or seven innings. He goes easy. I think I learned something last year in the postseason, in the Korean Series, in the bullpen. He’s completely changed. He’s throwing like he’s supposed to now. This is the original Choi Won-tae,” he said emphatically.
It was almost as if last year’s form came back on this day. He threw 56 pitches by the second inning, which was exactly what the manager said, but he didn’t collapse. He was able to digest the inning, which is a starter’s greatest virtue. He didn’t give up another run. It’s no exaggeration to say that the batters were able to turn the game around.
After the game, Choi Won-tae said, “My pitches didn’t go the way I wanted them to at the beginning of the game. I’m not satisfied with my performance. Thanks to Lee Ji-young’s lead, I was able to throw with ease.”
Regarding his record for the most consecutive QS, Choi said, “I want to pitch well in every game. I can’t control the number of wins, but I think it’s my role to create a situation where the team can win. I’m grateful to the coach for his concern.”
He joined the Nexen (now Kiwoom) in the first round in 2015. In 2017, his third year, he reached double-digit wins with 11 wins and a 4.46 ERA. He followed that up with 13 wins and a 3.95 ERA in 2018, and 11 wins and a 3.38 ERA in 2019. He improved each year.
Then he fell off. In 2020, he won just seven games and had a 5.07 ERA. In 2021, he had nine wins and a 4.58 ERA. Last year, he started 20 games and made six appearances out of the bullpen. He won seven games and posted a 3.75 ERA. It was his fewest innings (105.2) since moving up to full-time.먹튀검증
He ended up pitching exclusively out of the bullpen in the postseason. It was a blow to his pride. He sharpened his knife, and in 2023, he’s been an ace. In 14 games and 86.1 innings, he’s 6-3 with a 2.71 ERA. That’s a career-high pace. Won-tae Choi was never supposed to pitch this well.