My first full-time job as a starter, and how I reimagined fall baseball

Few players have changed so much in a few short years.

Na Gyun-an, 26, made his professional debut in 2017 as a catcher, but an untimely injury forced him to switch to pitching. He returned to the first team as a pitcher in 2021, and last season he earned a spot in the starting rotation. This happened seven years after his debut.

Now, he will continue his career as a starting pitcher.

Last year’s record was a half success. In the first month of the season, he led the way for Lotte, going 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in five games.

However, as the season progressed, he struggled with physical limitations and was unable to continue his consistent pitching. In the first half of the season, he went 6-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 16 games, but in the second half, he went 0-5 with a 5.17 ERA in seven games.

Since leaving for Guam, Lotte’s spring training camp, on April 21, Na has been preparing for the upcoming season.

In a phone conversation, Na said, “I took a break during the final camp after the season. I think I took almost all of November off. I took the most time off since my professional debut to recover. It was a strange feeling to take a break for so long,” he said.

He needed the rest. It was her first year as a pitcher and her first full season as a starter, and she also competed at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in September.

During the break, he reflected on the season. “At the beginning of the season, everything I did went well. I was lucky and confident on the mound. I think whatever I did, whether it was winning or not, it worked out.”

“I was doing well until mid-June,” he said, “but then I started to slow down a little bit, and as I did that, I couldn’t get the mechanics or movement on the ball that I had in the beginning. As the results didn’t come out as I thought, I started to use forked balls more often to avoid being hit, and I had trouble fighting with the batters. As a result, I accumulated a lot of runners,” he said.

As a result, he didn’t give himself many points. “My score was 30,” he said. “I had a goal to play full-time every season, but it’s a shame that I didn’t take care of my body,” he said, noting that a hamstring injury in late July forced him to withdraw from the rotation.

“When I saw other starting pitchers throwing a lot of innings and not rotating, I realized it was different,” he said. “I don’t think my bad performance after winning six games was without physical effects. I also learned a lot at the Asian Games and felt a lot.”

In particular, he took advice from Won Tae-in (Samsung), who is two years his junior. “He’s a good pitcher in the league, so I asked him a lot about his routine after pitching as a starter. I realized that I wasn’t good enough while listening to him,” Na recalled.

After winning a season-high six games last year, Na Gyun-ahn is less concerned with reaching 10 wins personally than he is with the team’s desire to experience fall baseball once again.

Na is one of the few players who played in the postseason in 2017, Lotte’s most recent fall baseball season. But back then, Na made the semifinals as a catcher. Now, he’s looking at fall baseball again as a pitcher.

“I experienced fall baseball for the first time as a rookie,” he says, “and it’s really different to play fall baseball at the Sajik Ballpark. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done it because I’ve seen the atmosphere and played the game. We talk about why we should go to the postseason, and I understand why. I want to go every year,” he said.

As a pitcher, he often thinks about the moment when he takes the mound in fall baseball. “I’ve imagined it a lot. I was a backup catcher in my first fall baseball game, so I think it will be different this time as a pitcher. Maybe I’ll set a record, and I’ll feel a new atmosphere that I haven’t experienced before,” he said.

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