“As you can see from our team situation, we don’t know who our starting shortstop is.”

The Doosan Bears have played 44 games this season. A third of the way through the 144-game season, they still don’t have an owner for their centre-field position. There are plenty of options. From veteran Kim Jae-ho (38) to Park Kye-beom (27), Lee Yoo-chan (25) and Ahn Jae-seok (21), four players have been battling for the job since the spring, but no one has been able to nail it down.

On the 27th, Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop met with reporters at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, and when asked, “When will you be able to nail down a starting shortstop?” he said, “I’m curious too. But it’s not easy,” he said, expressing his frustration.메이저사이트

What it means to surpass 100 errors

Lee has emphasised ‘minimising errors’ since he took over in October last year. Doosan ranked fifth in the league last year with 117 team errors. It was the first time since the 10-team, 144-game format was introduced in 2015 that Doosan had more than 100 errors in a season. This season, they already have 41 errors. That’s almost one error per game.

Coincidentally, Doosan’s solid defence started to falter when the Kim Jae-ho-Oh Jae-won (38) keystone combo broke down. Kim Jae-ho and Oh Jae-won were the mainstays of Doosan’s trophy-winning defence in 2015, 2016 and 2019. Their understanding of defence and baseball in general was so high that they adjusted their defensive positions on their own without any instructions from the manager or defence coach, and their determination to stop any ball that came in front of them was incredible. The balls that they missed, you could almost accept that they were unavoidable.

The problem was generational change. Kim Jae-ho and Oh Jae-won were getting older and their defensive range was getting smaller, while the juniors behind them were slow to develop. Oh Jae-won had retired by then, and Kim Jae-ho was now on the bench, trying to encourage the younger players, but they didn’t feel the same way.

Doosan defence coach Cho Sung-hwan said, “In the past, Doosan was good because if a mistake was made, the pitchers were always there to stop it. Nowadays, one mistake, especially from last year, has too much impact,” he explained. As a result, there is a huge void in the infield, especially at shortstop, for a leader who can hold the centre when the defence falters.

Competition and bouncing back

Lee went into the Australian spring camp determined to nail down a starting shortstop this year. In Australia, Kim Jae-ho, Ahn Jae-seok, Lee Yoo-chan, and Park Kye-beom competed for the position, and during the exhibition games, Kim Jae-ho, Ahn Jae-seok, and Lee Yoo-chan fought for the position again. As a result, Lee was selected as the opening shortstop. Lee started the season with a bang in the offence and seemed to put an end to the competition for the starting shortstop position.

However, his inexperience eventually caught up with him. It’s natural for a player in his first year of full-time play to have ups and downs. When Lee first got tired, Ahn Jae-suk took over the baton, and after a sparkling start, he had to withdraw due to back pain. In the meantime, Kim Jae-ho was mostly on the bench, supporting Lee and Ahn Jae-suk from behind.

The shortstop who gave Lee some breathing space was Park Kye-bum. Park was called up to the first team for the first time this season on the 9th, and he literally flew out of the park. Coach Cho said, “(Park) Kye-beom is the light of our team. He’s been really good. Even though he was injured and out for the opening day, I never once doubted his ability.” Park Kye-beom’s presence at shortstop allowed Lee Yoo-chan to move to second base, where he felt more comfortable in the field.

However, after about a month, Park Kye-beom started to make mistakes and his batting pace slowed down. “When he came to the first team and was consistent, I thought he would be able to establish himself (as the starting shortstop), but his pace dropped,” Lee said.

In the end, no one really established themselves in the competition during the camp, so the Doosan shortstop has remained an unused position until now. “I wasn’t good enough. We had to decide on a shortstop, and the camp ended without that. (Lee) Yoo-chan and (Ahn) Jae-seok didn’t come up as high as the coach thought they would,” he said, adding that the aftermath is still being felt today.

◆ Round and round, back to Kim Jae-ho

Back to Kim Jae-ho. Kim Jae-ho returned to the first team on the 23rd after nearly three weeks with the second team. He came off the bench to get a hit against the Samsung Lions on the 24th and has been starting at shortstop ever since. This is because both the defence and the offence felt that there was no shortstop who could outperform Kim Jae-ho in the immediate future.

“I think (Kim Jae-ho) prepared well by going to the second team, and I think he got some speed in his body. Actually, before he went down to the second team, we thought his body movements were a little bit slow and dull. When I came back, I saw him practising, and his movements were more dynamic. I thought he had prepared hard in the second team,” he said, praising the veteran’s efforts.

Kim Jae-ho is currently the starting shortstop. It remains to be seen if he will reclaim the title for the rest of the season or if the juniors will shake him down once again.

“A shortstop can hit, but he also needs to be anchored by his defence. The defence has to be good, and Kim Jae-ho has done a good job in the last two games without any problems. If the pitcher is struggling or nervous, he can slow down the tempo as a veteran, and (shortstop) is a position that can control the infielders. You need that veteran presence. The younger guys can watch and learn from the bench, and when they get their chance, they can go out there and do well and earn their spot.”

He also had some stinging words for the younger shortstop candidates who haven’t had a chance in 44 games. He emphasised that if you leave a spot open, someone else will step in. “You shouldn’t leave a spot open, the best player should play,” he said, but “you should be ready for the opportunity that comes your way.” He hopes the rest of the season will bring a healthier shortstop competition.

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