Yoon Suk-min to debut against Yankees

March 13, 2014
Yoon Suk-min posted this photo on his Twitter account earlier this week.

Yoon posted this photo on his Twitter account just before he signed with the Orioles.

Yoon Suk-min will likely get his first game action for the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees on Saturday, according to one source. Yoon’s interpreter Justin Yoo was quoted in the article.

The Korean right-hander signed a three-year, $5.75 million contract with the Orioles in the offseason. The deal could grow to over $13 million if the 27-year-old manages to start 26 or more games each season.

Yoon hasn’t been able to pitch in a game for the Orioles in spring training ― a series of practices and exhibition games preceding the start of the regular season ― because he didn’t have a visa.

Yoon left training camp last week for an interview at the America embassy in Ottawa, Canada, where he had applied for a job visa. With the paperwork now complete, Yoon is expected to rejoin the team on Saturday. Orioles manager Buck Showalter will give Yoon a day of rest before testing him against the Yankees, according to the report by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

Yoon, who had expected to get the visa much earlier, is facing an uphill battle to join the Orioles’ starting rotation. His chances may have been hurt by the visa issues that prevented him from displaying his stuff against major league hitters.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are settled as the team’s first three starters. For the last two spots, Yoon finds himself competing with the likes of Zach Britton, Bud Norris, Kevin Gausman, and Johan Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who recently came out of retirement.

Britton, who has maintained a 1.29 earned run average (ERA) while pitching seven innings in four exhibition games, is generating excitement, while Norris and Gausman have looked impressive as well.

The Orioles are hoping that Yoon can appear in at least three games before the start of the regular season. The Korean prefers to start, but many observers believe his skills are more suited for a reliever.

Yoon, who won the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) MVP award in 2011 as a starter for the Kia Tigers, will be looking to duplicate the success of compatriot Ryu Hyun-jin, who went 14-8 in his first year with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

In his nine years with the Tigers, Yoon won 73 games and lost 59 with an ERA of 3.19, establishing himself as one of the best Korean pitchers of his generation. His 2011 season is considered one of the best for a pitcher in KBO history, when he led the league with 17 wins, 178 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA to accomplish a rare pitching ”triple crown.’’

In his prime, Yoon displayed a dual ability to miss bats or induce groundballs, which had many scouts projecting a solid career in the U.S. However, it’s uncertain whether the Orioles are getting a player in his prime.

Yoon endured a tough season in 2013 after sustaining an injury during the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March. He made his season debut in May, coming out of the bullpen, but managed only 87 innings and his ERA soared over 4.00.

Observers here noted that Yoon’s fastball, which used to reach the high-140 to low-150-kilometer-per-hour range, hovered in the mid-140s last year. He gave up a career-high .92 homeruns per nine innings.

However, Yoon did pitch better as the season progressed and now claims that he is fully recovered from his shoulder problems. If Yoon can be anywhere close to the pitcher he was in 2011, the Orioles could be getting a steal.