(LEAD) Cardinals’ Kim Kwang-hyun struggles in spring debut vs. Mets

March 5, 2021

 St. Louis Cardinals’ South Korean starter Kim Kwang-hyun was shaky in his spring training debut against the New York Mets, unable to take advantage of an extra opportunity to right the ship.

Kim gave up four runs — one unearned — in 2/3 of an inning across two stints on the mound against the New York Mets at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, on Wednesday (local time). The left-hander struck out two and walked two while allowing four hits.

Kim, a former MVP-winning starter in his native South Korea, is entering his second major league season. In a truncated, 60-game season in 2020, Kim was 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA in eight appearances, including seven starts.

That lone relief appearance came in Kim’s major league debut, as he began the season as the Cardinals’ closer and even recorded a save in his first bullpen outing. Kim was soon thrust into the rotation and never left.

Kim’s role is more clearly defined this year, as he has all but locked down a rotation spot. A rough spring outing such as this shouldn’t affect Kim’s standing on the team.

After a bit of a rain delay, Kevin Pillar greeted Kim with a triple off the left field wall. Kim struck out Jonathan Villar swinging on a 1-2 slider but then J.D. Davis knocked in the Mets’ first run with a single to left.

A passed ball by backup catcher Andrew Knizner allowed Davis to take second base, and Kim walked Jose Martinez on five pitches.

The Mets kept piling on: Luis Guillorme singled home Davis to make it 2-0, and Tomas Nido’s single cashed in Martinez for a 3-0 Mets lead.

Kim was lifted for Angel Rondon, who retired the next two batters to end the inning. And in a move only possible in spring training games, the Cardinals sent Kim back out to the mound to open the top of the second inning.

Kim got Francisco Alvarez swinging on a slider for the inning’s first out but then walked Pillar after an eight-pitch battle that saw Kim empty his arsenal — two fastballs, three curveballs, two sliders and one changeup.

St. Louis manager Mike Shildt had seen enough and took Kim out for the second and final time of the day.

The Cardinals rallied to win the game 14-9.

Kim made 39 pitches, 23 of them for strikes. He offered 18 fastballs, 11 sliders, six curveballs and four changeups. Never a fireballer, Kim touched 89.6 mph with his four-seamer. He averaged 89.9 mph with that pitch in 2020.

Kim said after the game it’ll be back to the drawing board — or the video room, more literally speaking.

“I didn’t have good command of my pitches, and I didn’t have the velocity that I wanted. I was lacking in all aspects of the game,” Kim said in his postgame Zoom session. “I’ll have to watch the video of the game and break it down.”

Kim blamed his first-inning adventures on his poor balance and said he just couldn’t get it straightened out in the second inning either.

“I’ve been training indoors a lot so far this spring,” Kim said. “I’ve done more weightlifting than running, and I still have work to do. We have about a month left before the regular season starts (on April 1), and I’ll try to be better by then.”

Kim said his mindset this year is no different than a year ago, even though he was fighting for a rotation job then and he appears safely in the rotation this time.

“I am in the process of increasing my workload. The fact that I am using spring games to get ready for the regular season hasn’t changed,” Kim said. “I had issues with my command and velocity, and I have to get to the cause of those problems.”

Kim, who is set to become a free agent once his two-year deal expires after this season, was asked if he plans to pitch in the majors beyond 2021.

“To do that, I’ll have to pitch better,” Kim said with a smile. “I know this is going to be an important season for me. Once the regular season starts, I’ll be better than this.”

As for his velocity, Kim said: “Although I wasn’t happy with it today, I don’t usually stress over it. It’s just that numbers on the scoreboard were low. My body feels good.”

Shildt said postgame that there is no need to “overreact” to what happens in a spring training game

“You could tell (Kim) was clearly dialed in (in the second inning), not that he wasn’t in the first inning,” Shildt said. “In Kim’s case, you get out there for the first time and you’re feeling your way a little bit. He was a little bit better in the second inning, groovier and more on point. I was pleased to see how he went out and responded.”