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Major League stars get off to a flying start, mostly

Kang, Choo and Ryu all started strong, Choi and Oh are struggling
Apr 06,2019
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From left: Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oh Seung-hwan of the Colorado Rockies, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers, Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays and Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers. [YONHAP, REUTERS/YONHAP, AP/YONHAP]
It’s been a week since the 2019 MLB season started, and the five Korean major leaguers are already seeing very different levels of success.

Of the five, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates definitely marked his return during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday. Playing as fifth batter and third baseman, Kang had one hit, a ball, a run and an RBI.

After a ground out double play in the first inning, Kang finally exploded in the third, blasting a solo home run over the left fence for his first homer since Oct. 2, 2016.

By hitting a home run, Kang Jung-ho’s batting average went up from 0.222 to 0.231.

This was an impressive return for Kang as it was his first home run in 914 days of major league baseball and it came in only his fourth game of the season.

However, Kang wasn’t able to continue his performance as his bat stayed silent throughout the Pirates’ game on Thursday. Kang once again appeared as the fifth batter and third baseman, but, unlike Wednesday, he had no hits and was struck out twice.

Due to this, Kang’s batting average once again went down from .231 to .176. The Pirates picked up a 2-0 victory against the Cincinnati Reds and ended a two-game losing streak.

While Kang didn’t see much action, major league veteran Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers set quite a record during a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on Thursday.

Starting as right fielder and leadoff, Choo started the game with a walk, a hit by pitch, at the top of the first inning. After a big first inning where the Rangers picked up five wins, Choo got in the batter’s box once again at the top of the second, and this time, he finally had a hit.

By doing so, Choo achieved his 1,500th hit in his 15th season in the majors. Of the Asian players in the majors, Choo has had the second-highest number of career hits after Suzuki Ichiro, who had a huge 3,089 hits throughout his career.

Choo continued his momentum in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Choo hit another double to bring all three batters home and extend the Rangers’ lead to 9-2.

The Rangers ultimately picked up a big 11-4 win against the Angels.

With a great game, Choo’s batting average jumped up from .167 to .238.

While it often takes a little while for players to warm up at the start of the season, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been on form since day one of the 2019 season.

Ryu first started in the opening game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium and picked up a win, becoming the first Korean pitcher since Park Chan-ho in 2001 to pick up a win in an opening game in the major league. Throughout six innings, Ryu gave up four hits and a run while striking out eight. Although the Dodgers’ bullpen gave up four more runs after Ryu left the mound, they still cruised to a big 12-7 victory to start the 2019 season.

Then, on Tuesday, he started in his second game against the San Francisco Giants. Ryu Hyun-jin gave up two runs in seven innings for another quality start and picked up his second win of the season. Interestingly, Ryu’s two runs were a home run from pitcher Madison Bumgarner. This was the first time since he joined the majors in 2013 that Ryu has given up a home run to a pitcher.

But a win is a win. Giving up two runs did slightly increase Ryu’s ERA from 1.50 to 2.08, but he is still looking good this season.

While Kang, Choo and Ryu have comfortably settled into their spots in the starting rotation, things are not looking so good for the other two major leaguers.

Oh Seung-hwan of the Colorado Rockies had an unfortunate start in the opening game but is starting to get back in shape. He started his first game of the season by giving up a home run, but in the latest game on Tuesday, Oh tossed a scoreless inning against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Choi Ji-man of the Rays is seeing more playing time this season but hasn’t been explosive at bat. In his most recent game against the Rockies on Wednesday, Choi was given two walks to continue his on-base streak. However, as his bat stayed silent, Choi’s batting average went down from 0.313 to 0.263.

BY KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]