The Lotte Giants are facing their biggest crisis of the year. ‘Ace’ Na Gyun-ahn has voluntarily left the mound due to elbow pain. He is likely to be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. The bad news just keeps coming.
Na Gyun-ahn started the 11th game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against the KT Wiz at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, South Korea on April 21 and struggled, giving up six runs (six earned) on 10 hits, two walks, and three strikeouts in five innings while throwing 99 pitches to take his second loss of the season (six wins).메이저놀이터
Na has been the centerpiece of Lotte’s mound this year. In April, with Dan Straily, Charlie Barnes, Park Se-woong, and Han Hyun-hee all out of form, he single-handedly swept four games to win the monthly MVP award. In May, he struggled for wins, but he was solid on the mound and continued his good form after June began. Even if you don’t take into account the fact that he switched positions, he was still worthy of being called an ‘ace’.
And he’s been in the middle of the lineup in games that could matter most. Lotte was in the midst of a severe slump, going 3-10 in their last 13 games and facing a five-game ‘losing series’ in 21 days. Although he has broken the team’s losing streak on numerous occasions in the past, the weight of the recent trend was on the shoulders of “Ace” Na Kyun-ahn.
Na Gyun-an got off to a good start, pitching a scoreless first two innings. However, he gave up back-to-back singles to Anthony Alford and Byung-ho Park with runners on first and second in the third inning to take a 1-0 lead. He gave up another run in the fifth inning and was pulled after giving up five runs in the sixth inning without recording a single out. Jin Seung-hyun, who took over for Batong, gave up the game-winning run and finished the game with six runs.
Lotte lost too much in this game. The bats went silent and the mound collapsed, resulting in an 8-2 loss that marked the fifth consecutive “losing series” for the team, which now has to worry about its 5 percent winning percentage. More devastating, however, was Na’s injury. He had thrown 99 pitches, but this was no ordinary substitution. He had just thrown 99 pitches, but this was no ordinary substitution.
“He felt discomfort in his right elbow’s external rotation,” said a Lotte representative, “and plans to travel to Busan on the 22nd for a thorough examination.” Na hasn’t had any injuries since switching to pitching. Of course, it may be a temporary pain, but the fact that it is the elbow cannot be overlooked.
From Lotte’s perspective, this is a “super emergency. Even if the injury is minor, it’s likely that Na will miss a start or two to rest. Lotte doesn’t have many options if he’s out. They could either move up from the second team, or Han Hyun-hee, who has expressed a desire to pitch out of the bullpen, could return to the starting rotation. It’s a small consolation that Lee In-bok is back from injury just in time.
Lotte finished April in sole possession of first place and continued to perform well in May, improving their win-loss margin to +10 games. However, as injuries to Ahn Kwon-soo, Noh Jin-hyuk, and Jeong Hoon began to pile up, the team has fallen into a severe slump, going 3-11 in their last 14 games. Their win-loss margin is now just +2. With a 5% chance of winning, the loss of their ‘ace’ is devastating.
Ahn Kwon-soo, who underwent bone chip surgery on his elbow, won’t be back until the second half of the season at the earliest. Noh Jin-hyuk is the player who could return the earliest. While it’s clear that Noh is a key resource for Lotte, it’s hard to expect him to be a “game-changer” that can turn the current unfavorable trend around. Jung-hoon’s comeback is expected to take about three weeks. In the bullpen, “Reliable Man” Choi Jun-yong is also still out.
Last year, Lotte finished April in second place and then plummeted in May as injuries piled up. This year, they’ve been on a roll through May, but last year’s May is starting to overlap with this year’s June. The reality is that Lotte has been hit with a series of bad news and can’t seem to find a way to rebound.
[Lotte starter Na Kyun-ahn is replaced at first base with no outs in the sixth inning of the ‘2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League’ game against KT at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on May 21. Photo by Kwak Kyung-hoon in Suwon