Itching to return, injured pitcher happy to be cheerleader during KBO postseason

SUWON, South Korea, After undergoing elbow operation in May, KT Wiz right-hander So Hyeong-jun is still months away from returning to the mound for his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club.

But So has been with the team all along in spirit. With the Wiz on the verge of reaching the Korean Series, So said Sunday he couldn't wait to rejoin the team.

"I've been dying to pitch again," So told reporters at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, just south of Seoul, where the Wiz were preparing for the deciding Game 5 of the second round in the postseason against the NC Dinos. So has been working out in the gym at his home stadium during his rehab. "I miss the atmosphere of postseason games."

The 22-year-old has been excellent in postseason play. When the Wiz won their first Korean Series title in 2021, So pitched six shutout innings for a 6-1 win in Game 2. The year before that, So had a 1.00 ERA in nine innings across two outings in the second round.

In this May 10, 2023, file photo provided by the KT Wiz, Wiz starter So Hyeong-jun pitches against the NC Dinos during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

But the pitching staff without So has been just fine. So was especially effusive about reliever Park Yeong-hyun, his high school teammate.

"I used to give him tips about mental preparation, but now I think I have to learn from him," So said with a smile.

So played for South Korea at the World Baseball Classic in March but pitched poorly. Then two months after the tournament, he was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his pitching elbow, which led to his season-ending Tommy John surgery.

"I felt impatient at first, but I decided it was something I had to do at some point in my career," said So, who is targeting a July 2024 return at the latest. "I've been getting plenty of rest and eating well."

So plans to begin his throwing program later this week. In the meantime, he will continue to cheer on the Wiz.

If the Wiz beat the Dinos later Sunday, they will reach the Korean Series for the second time in franchise history.

When a reporter joked that So may be a surprise addition to the Korean Series roster for the Wiz, So responded with a smile, "I might be able to throw out the ceremonial first pitch."

Source: Yonhap News Agency