By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) -- The reigning strikeout leader in South Korean baseball is on pace to topple his total from 2022 and set a new single-season record.
An Woo-jin of the Kiwoom Heroes padded his strikeout lead in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) Thursday night with seven strikeouts over six innings against the Doosan Bears.
In the top of the fifth inning at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, An struck out three straight batters on nine pitches -- the 14th time that had happened in KBO history.
An now has 73 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings this year through nine starts, 10 ahead of Erick Fedde of the NC Dinos, who has made eight starts covering 50 innings.
Last year, An topped the KBO with 224 strikeouts, just one shy of the all-time record set by Ariel Miranda of the Bears in 2021.
After Thursday's start, An remained ahead of last year's pace. Through his first nine starts of 2022, covering 56 innings, the right-hander has 69 strikeouts.
An threw 196 innings in 30 starts last season, and had 10.29 strikeouts per nine innings.
He averaged 6 1/3 innings pitched per start in 2022, and is sitting at the exact same number so far this year while striking out 11.46 batters per nine innings.
If An once again pitches 196 innings in 30 starts while striking out at a current rate, An will sniff 250 strikeouts.
An has had four double-digit strikeout games through nine starts in 2023, including 12 in each of his first two outings. Last year after nine starts, An had two such games.
In 2022, An won the strikeout title by 30 over Drew Rucinski of the Dinos. This year, Fedde, Rucinski's replacement at the top of the Dinos rotation, is pushing An harder.
Fedde has struck out 11.34 batters per nine innings, right behind An for the league lead in that category. The new American right-hander has had two double-digit strikeout starts.
The two are neck-and-neck in other categories, too.
Fedde leads the league with a 1.26 ERA, and An is third at 1.73. But An is tops in wins above replacement (WAR) at 2.66, leaving Fedde in second place at 2.17.