By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- In an encouraging bit of news for the South Korean baseball squad competing at the Asian Games in China, oft-injured national team pitcher Koo Chang-mo had a scoreless rehab outing Tuesday.
The NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced that their 26-year-old left-hander, recovering from a left forearm injury, threw two shutout innings in a minor league game Tuesday. Koo threw 27 pitches against seven batters, giving up a hit and striking out two. It was his first game in more than three months.
According to the Dinos, Koo threw 20 fastballs, five sliders and two forkballs. His fastball velocity ranged from 138 to 145 kilometers per hour.
Koo was named to the Asian Games squad on June 9, a week after taking himself out of a KBO regular season game against the LG Twins after just five pitches. Koo was initially diagnosed with left forearm strain, and doctors later discovered a stress fracture on the same arm.
Koo only began playing catch last month, and moved on to bullpen sessions and live batting practice before taking the mound in a real game Tuesday.
"It's been a while since I pitched in a game, and I felt good overall," Koo said in a statement released by the Dinos. "I am glad to have completed my two innings without worrying about my body. My fastball was pretty good, though I didn't throw as many breaking balls as I would have liked."
When healthy, Koo has been one of the KBO's top starters in recent years.
In 2020, He went 9-0 with a sparkling 1.74 ERA in 15 starts, after missing time with injuries. He struck out 102 and walked only 18 in 93 1/ innings, and then helped the Dinos capture their first Korean Series title that year.
Koo then missed the entire 2021 season with left forearm problems. He returned for the 2022 season, when he was 11-5 with a 2.10 ERA in 19 starts.
More arm trouble awaited him in 2023. He has gone 1-3 with a 3.26 ERA in nine starts so far this year.
Koo is one of three overage players for South Korea's under-24 team headed to Hangzhou for the Asiad. The KBO, in charge of selecting and operating the national team, is trying to give younger players early exposure to international competition.
With the youthful squad, the KBO is also trying to avoid the kind of controversy that had dogged previous Asiad teams. It had been accused of selecting underperforming veterans to give them a chance to earn exemption from mandatory military service by winning gold at the Asian Games.
The national baseball team is scheduled to hold its first practice Saturday. It will play a scrimmage next Tuesday and then fly to Hangzhou two days later.
The KBO plans to make any necessary injury replacements by Friday at the latest. The national team has already lost Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo, the reigning KBO regular season MVP who underwent season-ending ankle surgery in late July. The KBO has not yet filled Lee's spot in the outfield.
South Korea's first preliminary game is against Hong Kong on Oct. 1 at Shaoxing Baseball & Softball Sports Centre, just southeast of Hangzhou.
Managed by former KBO skipper Ryu Joong-il, South Korea will chase its fourth consecutive Asiad baseball gold medal.