Before making his MLB debut this season, Rangers reliever Hyeon-Jong Yang established himself with a standout 14-year career in the Korea Baseball Organization.
Yang was an ace for the Kia Tigers’ rotation who pitched his way to a KBO MVP award in 2017 and two Choi Dong-won awards in 2014 and 2017, which is given to the KBO League’s top starting pitcher.
Now with the Rangers, Yang has found a different role in the bullpen.
Yang made his debut on Monday, when he pitched 4 1/3 innings and allowed two runs. In his second and most recent outing on Friday, the lefty added another 4 1/3 innings and kept the Red Sox to just one hit and no runs.
“[Yang is] a strike-thrower, he's not afraid to throw the ball over the plate, he commands the ball well,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said.
The lefty adds another weapon to a Rangers bullpen that, coming into Saturday's game against Boston, hasn't allowed a run in its last 19 innings.
Despite his relievers not having set roles, Woodward said the bullpen staff has shown it is ready to be used in any situation. The relief corps has done well attacking the strike zone, which has become a mentality for the staff.
“I think the bullpen is unique because they're kind of a brotherhood down there,” Woodward said. “They all kind of take pride in doing that, and they really adapted well and adjusted to that philosophy of, ‘Let's go right after these guys,’ and they've had a ton of success because of it, especially recently.”
Yang said communication among the group and leadership from veterans like closer Ian Kennedy have been important in creating a bond with the bullpen.
“So I feel like having a lot of conversations has helped building the whole bullpen and the brotherhood,” Yang said through an interpreter. “Ian Kennedy as a closer and also the oldest in the bullpen, he always leads younger kids and the players as kind of a mentor. I think that plays a pretty good part in the brotherhood.”
With Yang being used as a starter in Korea, he said the transition of joining the bullpen is something new to him.
In his last seven KBO seasons with the Kia Tigers from 2014-20, Yang recorded at least 29 starts and threw 170 or more innings in each campaign. He won 15 or more games in four seasons, including a 20-win season in 2017.
As of now, Yang has been comfortable with his role as a reliever.
“Obviously, giving that starting opportunity would be good for me since I've been starting for all my career, but I know I understand my role in the team,” he said through an interpreter. “I always go up on the mound whenever the team needs me and whenever some other relievers need a break, and I am aware of the role. I have a responsibility for that, so it would be a great opportunity to start, but I'm happy with the role that I take right now.”
Woodward’s first-month assessment
After April wrapped up, the Rangers found themselves with an 11-16 record and in last place in the AL West standings.
Woodward said the team has shown some positive signs and will continue to look for its players to develop over the course of the season.
"I feel like we've been competitive,” Woodward said. “I'm proud of the work guys have put in ... we played well at times. I felt like we lost a lot of close games. Moving forward, what we're going to obviously demand of our guys is just keep getting better, keep improving, keep figuring out how to win games.”
Despite being under .500 to start the season, Woodward said the goal is to get the club back on a winning track.
“So overall, I think, you know, it's a positive,” he said. “But listen, I don't want to be under .500. I don't want to lose. I want to win.”