Josh Lindblom has only just returned to Korean baseball, but his impact on the Lotte Giants, is already unmistakable. Lotte players, fresh off a sweep of the first-place Kia Tigers, have said that team confidence is riding high, attributing it to Lindblom’s return. Lindblom had played for Lotte the past two seasons, but had spent the first half of the 2017 season with the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A minor league team.
At the end of the season’s first half, Lotte stood in seventh place, at 41-44. In the 10-team Korean Baseball Organization league, the top five teams make the postseason, leaving Lotte at three games out of a playoff spot. The team needed a shakeup, so they dropped struggling pitcher Nick Additon and signed Lindblom to replace him. Though Lindblom was 10-13 last season with a ghastly 5.28 earned run average, in 2015 he threw over 200 innings and went 13-11 with a 3.56 ERA, so team officials were confident in his potential.
“We asked players if they wanted Lindblom back, and the response was a definite yes,” a Lotte team official said. “His presence strengthens both our starting rotation and our bullpen, so we’ve brought him back.”
Lotte Giants pitcher Josh Lindblom delivers a pitch against the Samsung Lions in a game on August 27, 2016. (Yonhap)
The Giants started the second half strong, winning the first game of their series against the Samsung Lions, but then faltered, dropping the second game and being forced to settle for a tie in the third after a would-be go-ahead home run by right fielder Son Ah-seop was wrongly reversed after a video review.
With the Samsung series in the rear-view mirror, a reversal in the next series, a three-game showdown in Gwangju with the first-place Tigers, was critical. Lotte took the first game, coming from behind to win 4-3 on Andy Burns’ eighth inning home run. Then Lindblom marked his return, taking the mound for game two. He was masterful, scattering just two hits over his four innings pitched and striking out four. His velocity was also good, topping out at 149 kilometers per hour, as the Giants eked out a 1-0 win.
Lotte manager Jo Won-ho was impressed with Lindblom’s outing, saying, “Compared to last year, Lindblom has improved. Last year he relied too much on his fastball and slider, but has increased his use of the cut fastball.” Jo also explained that the decision to pull Lindblom after only four innings was based on his pitch count, and indicated that in Lindblom’s next start on July 27 against the Hanhwa Eagles he would be given a longer leash.
Lindblom’s teammates were similarly effusive in their praise. Right fielder Son said, “When Lindblom takes the mound, we in the field can feel comfortable. He’s a good pitcher that we can trust as a defense.”
Shortstop Moon Kyu-hyun agreed, saying, “Lindblom constantly pressures opposing batters. Since he arrived, the environment has definitely improved. Winning games takes off pressure.”
Lotte’s confidence stayed high as they felled Kia ace Hector Noesi in the final game for a series sweep. Trailing 1-0 after five innings, the Giants took a 3-1 lead on consecutive hits by third baseman Shin Bon-gi, Moon and center fielder Jeon Joon-woo. Though those proved to be Noesi’s only mistakes, Lotte held on for the victory, snapping Noesi’s record win streak.
Lotte Giants third baseman Shin Bong-gi bats against the Kia Tigers in a game on July 23, 2017. (Yonhap)
Lotte ended the first week of the second half with four wins, one loss and one draw. They also ended the week smiling, in high spirits and with confidence in the clubhouse buoyed by their victories and Lindblom’s return.
By Alex Park / Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)