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Lotte’s miracle 5? Ask 3 outside FAs…LG’s catcher healthy, Noh prosecutor issues victory warrant, 30-year-old submarine QS

“I should have come as a free agent and set an example for the juniors…”

Lotte earned a valuable sweep in a three-game weekend series at home against KIA on Nov. 11-13. They closed to within 1.5 games of sixth-place Kia. They are also three games behind fifth-place Doosan. Fourth-place NC, one game ahead of Doosan, is no slouch either. In the end, given the strength of the field, NC, Doosan, KIA, and Lotte have a 50 percent chance of taking the last two tickets to fall baseball.

An upset fifth place finish for Lotte is arithmetically possible. While the homegrown starters are a bit shaky, the resurgence of Charlie Barnes and the success of new foreign pitcher Aaron Wilkerson are encouraging. Add to that the return of Ahn Kwon-soo and the emerging batting cohesion of Lee Jung-hoon. The Lotte bats were second in the league last week with a team batting average of .326.

What Lotte needs to do to gain more momentum, though, is for the outside free agents they brought in this offseason to step up. In the 2022-2023 free agent market, Lotte signed catcher Yoo Kang-nam for four years and 8 billion won, shortstop Noh Jin-hyuk for four years and 5 billion won, and right-handed sidearm Han Hyun-hee for 3+1 years and 4 billion won.

The 17 million won trio that was missing last year hasn’t been hitting their stride. In 81 games, Yoo is 243-for-55 with a .226 batting average, six home runs, 29 RBI, 30 runs scored, a .641 OPS, and a .213 slugging percentage. He still frames well and plays solid defense. Seventh-best catcher in the league with a 0.435 WAA, per Baseball-Reference.

However, the free agent catcher needs to show more production at the plate. He was sidelined with a side injury after the July 28 game against the Gwangju Kia, and he warmed up in the Futures League with Hanwha on December 12-13. He went 4-for-7 with a .571 batting average, one home run, two RBIs and one run scored. 먹튀검증

However, manager Larry Sutton has no intention of rushing Yoo back to the first team. Before the game against the Busan KIA on the 13th, he said, “His rehab went well. He played good defense and had some good at-bats. I’m going to make sure he gets his body strong enough. We have two healthy catchers (Lee Jung-geun and Son Sung-bin) who are doing a good job in the first team. Health is the priority.”

Sutton also praised the framing. “I’ve been hearing about him since we brought him in as a free agent. It’s actually one of his big strengths. It’s called a steel strike, and when he’s throwing borderline pitches, he’s really good at getting them for strikes.”

In 78 games, Noh is 238-for-56 with a .235 batting average, three home runs, 33 RBIs, 30 runs scored, seven doubles, a .660 OPS, and a .219 slugging percentage. However, his bat came alive this weekend in a three-game series, going 4-for-9 with three doubles. Noh said it’s a process of finding his old rhythm and balance.

“I’m getting a good balance. Even if you strike out on a pitch, you have to move the point forward. If your point is late, you can’t hit a fastball. My right hip was falling forward, but it has improved a lot. When you have a good balance, the first thing that comes out is a hit, and it’s coming out.” In reality, Noh has begun to maximize his strengths through hard work and study.

Then there’s Han Hyun-hee. In 28 games this season, he’s 4-9 with a 5.65 ERA in three starts. He’s a submarine with a fastball that sits in the low 140s and a changeup that’s monotonous and has a lot of ups and downs. Bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen, never quite convincing in either.

Signed as a free agent, should be a starter eventually. Only three quality starts are a bit disappointing. He returned to the starting rotation on July 30 against the Gwangju Kia and pitched four innings in three consecutive games. He needs to lower his batting average, which has reached 0.304. Now that he’s back in the starting rotation, it’s best to keep him out of the bullpen.

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