Hong Won-ki says Jo Sang-woo’s finalization is not finalized

Kiwoom Heroes head coach Hong Won-ki is a ‘man of secrets’. When asked about his season plans, player personnel, and more, he’s not the type to give you a straightforward answer.

Of course, this is something to understand. Kiwoom doesn’t have a deep roster and doesn’t have any homegrown starters for the off-season right now. There are about 10 players competing for a spot. If the coach unnecessarily mentions a specific player’s name, it can have a big impact on the morale of the players.

Hong arrived at Incheon International Airport on June 6 after leading the spring training camp in the United States and Taiwan. “Before the camp, I was thinking about the composition of the starting lineup, and through the camp, the candidates were compressed. We have a good idea. The pitchers who threw long in the exhibition games are the finalists,” Hong said. As for who is ahead of the pack, Hong is still coy.

Hong also talked about the best-of-seven group.

“We’re going to identify the players who will be responsible for the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings through the exhibition games. You’ll see when you watch the game,” he laughed.

This could be interpreted to mean that Cho Sang-woo is not a lock to finish either. Cho was ready for the season in spring training after his military service. He won the 2020 season with 33 saves. He is a national team bullpen with 82 career saves. As long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t be the closer. Cho has lost more than 10 kilograms before the camp, making him look even more bulky. Before the camp, Hong said, “Gu Guan is a master,” and he was leaning toward Cho finishing.

However, Hong said something unexpected. When I asked him, “Isn’t it confirmed that Cho Sang-woo will finish?”, he smiled unintelligibly. When I said, “Isn’t it okay for you to tell me about Cho’s position?” he said, “The players are coming out to the homecoming hall now. You should interview the players,” he said.

He then said something meaningful.

“If you compare our 2022 season to last season, there is a difference. In the 2022 season, there were not many games that were overturned in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Last year, there were too many,” he said. “So we are now thinking more about the eighth inning than the ninth. I think Cho Sang-woo will pitch in the most important inning,” he hinted in a cryptic answer. Kiwoom broke out in the 2022 season and made it all the way to the Korean Series, but ended last season in last place.

This suggests that the team may use their strongest pitcher, Cho Sang-woo, when they need to keep the game close in the seventh or eighth inning, and leave the ninth inning to someone else. Kiwoom is scheduled to enlist in the military in June, but until then, there is Kim Jae-woong who can serve as the closer.

Jo Sang-woo, who returned home with the team, said he was not concerned about the move, saying, “It’s up to the manager to decide, and I just need to throw hard.”

What does Hong have in mind for Cho Sang-woo? We wonder if he’s going to showcase a groundbreaking bullpen that breaks the basic formula of ‘the best pitcher closes’.

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