(Yonhap Interview) Pitching in KBO has been eye-opener for Dinos starter Kyle Hart

After getting his cup of coffee with the Boston Red Sox in 2020, left-handed pitcher Kyle Hart spent the next three years in the minor leagues. For someone in his early 30s like Hart, it can be a baseball purgatory where players may struggle to find a sense of purpose. Playing just to get called up to the majors can take its toll. Then in December 2023, Hart signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), taking his talent outside America for the first time. And Hart says the first two months in South Korea have been "eye opening" on many levels. "The amount of respect for the game that these guys have, I think, is lost sometimes in America, probably because the guys are just so talented now that they just roll out and play," Hart told Yonhap News Agency in an interview Tuesday, before the Dinos faced the Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. "And I feel like that aspect of respect is really what lights the flame in the KBO, between the opposing teams, the umpires, your own teams, and fans and coaches. It's been eye opening." And with a strong start to this season so far, Hart, 31, has opened a lot of eyes around the KBO too. Prior to his start Wednesday night, Hart ranked fourth in the league with a 2.93 ERA and sat in an eight-way tie for first with five wins. He is fourth in both strikeouts (57) and walks and hits per inning pitched (1.08). Hart carries a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 2.94. The FIP measures a pitcher's performance based on elements he can control -- strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. That Hart's ERA and FIP are virtually identical means he is pitching as well as his numbers suggest he should be, without being too lucky or unlucky. With Hart doing his part on the mound, the Dinos have been near the top of the standings throughout the season. "I think I'm right where I need to be. I'm giving the team a chance to win every single time," Hart said. "There's a couple of things that I need to tighten up a little bit, but overall, I'm pretty ple ased, and I think as a team, we've performed really well." More specifically, Hart said he wanted to pitch better against left-handed hitters, although numbers say Hart has been just fine against same-handed hitters. Left-handed hitters are batting .202 with an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .497 against him, compared with a .236 batting average and a .624 OPS by right-handed hitters. "I almost feel a little bit more comfortable against the right-handed hitters right now, which should not be the case," he said. "Maybe the numbers don't support that, but I need to give myself a few more options against the lefties and have a little bit more confidence." Hart had his "Welcome to the KBO" moment on April 20 against the first-place Kia Tigers. He was tagged for his season-high six runs in five innings and allowed his first home run of the season against Lee Woo-sung. "That was probably the moment where I'm like, 'You know what, you're going to have to work a little harder than you thought. This isn't going t o be easy at all,'" Hart said. "And these guys want to put up 10 runs on you every night." KBO teams can each sign no more than two foreign pitchers. They are almost always front-end starting pitchers, and they are kept on a short leash. Moving to a new country and adjusting to a new league are challenging enough, but if these pitchers don't put up strong numbers right away, their job will be on the line. It's a different kind of pressure than what homegrown players face. Hart acknowledged there is "definitely a good amount of pressure" but that hasn't forced him to change his approach. "Whether I'm pitching in America or here or wherever, my focus is just give the team a chance to win," he said. "It doesn't have to be perfect. It's not always going to be pretty. Whatever you can do to where we're in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, and we're right there, whether up three or down two, just right there with a good chance to win. And I feel like with that mindset, you're going to produce some quality outing s over 30 starts in a season." Hart said he relishes the pressure because playing for something other than a call from the majors that may never come has been a welcome change. "I just really want to put ourselves in a good position for the playoffs. I really like some of these road atmospheres and certainly our home atmosphere at times has just been amazing," Hart said of fan support throughout the league. "It's just going to be crazy in some of these big playoff games, and I've never experienced that. I've kind of just been stuck in Triple-A, where you're not really pitching for anything other than maybe to get called up or whatever. But there's no environment like this. There's no winning culture and pressure to win. "So I would be really excited and looking forward to the potential of making a deep playoff run and just feeling those moments," Hart added. Hart said making quick adjustments to life away from the ballpark has been a huge factor for his early-season success, while thanking his wife -- "I' ve learned that my wife is a lot tougher than I thought," Hart said with a smile -- for taking care of their 10-month-old baby. "I've learned that I'm a little more adaptable than I thought," Hart added. "I'm not a good traveler. I don't like flying. Obviously, just getting here is a challenge on its own. So I'm proud of myself for some of the adjustments that I've made, just getting set up over here. I think that's helped me on the field because then I can just focus on the game." Source: Yonhap News Agency