After nearly three years away from the first team, Kim Hyung-jun (24-NC Dinos) made a splash in his comeback game and brightened his prospects for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games.
On Thursday, Kim came off the bench in the bottom of the first inning of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League game against SSG Landers at SSG Landers Field in Incheon, South Korea, and went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored, including back-to-back home runs in the fifth and eighth innings.
Prior to the game, Kim Hyung-jun made the first team roster for the first time this season. After starting the game off the bench, he came in for starting catcher Ahn Jung-yeol with a mask on in the bottom of the first inning as the team fell behind 2-3. It was his first first-team game in 1027 days since October 31, 2020, against Gwangju KIA.
After striking out in his first at-bat in the top of the second inning, Kim came out swinging. In the top of the fifth inning, with his team trailing 2-7, he stepped up to the plate for the second time in a row and took advantage of SSG starter Kirk McCarty’s body cutter for a 125-meter solo home run over the left field fence. It came 1045 days after his last hit against the Changwon KIA on October 13, 2020.
Kim Hyung-jun’s bat didn’t stop there. In the top of the eighth inning, he led off with a full count, this time pushing an outside pitch from McCarty. The ball sailed over the fence in right-center field. It was Kim’s first home run in back-to-back at-bats in his first-team debut.
His performance in the game was significant. Kim Hyung-jun, who was expected to be a promising catcher even before his military service, underwent surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last August while fulfilling his military obligations with the Commercial Baseball Organization. He rehabbed patiently and returned to action in mid-May this year, earlier than expected. In late May, however, he suffered a setback when he tore a ligament in his right ankle while stepping on a ball during practice.
Despite the setback, Kim was selected in early June along with Kim Dong-heon (19, Kiwoom Heroes) to the national team for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games (starting Sept. 23), which will be dominated by players under the age of 25. “Kim Hyung-jun is a player who has proven his skills and abilities in the NC before going to the military,” said Cho Gye-hyun, head of the Korean Baseball Organization’s (KBO) Power Enhancement Committee. He added, “Kim Hyung-jun will be our main focus (at the Asian Games),” indicating that he will be a mainstay in the lineup.
After a series of twists and turns, Kim returned to action in the Futures League on July 5 against Masan Commerce. Since then, he has been playing consistently and has improved his batting average since his return, hitting .306 with four home runs. Eventually, he was called up to the first team on July 23 against SSG (rain date), and a day later, he played in the game 메이저사이트 and activated the home run machine. The performance eased the worries of the national team, who were concerned about the absence of their main catcher Park Se-hyuk, who is rehabbing from wrist tendinitis.
After the game, Kim Hyung-jun said, “At first, I was a little nervous going out on the field, but then I thought, ‘Let’s do what I can do and what I’ve been preparing for.’ In my first at-bat, my timing was late and the result was not good. In my next at-bat, regardless of the outcome, I thought about timing it in front of the plate, which led to a good result,” said Kim.
“On a personal level, I’m happy that I made it back to the first team without getting sick and that I was able to perform well in my comeback game,” he said. “I’d like to thank the Futures Training Department and the coaches for helping me get back to the first team in good health, and I’d also like to thank the fans for their support during the tough rehabilitation period.”