JUPITER, Fla. -- Kwang-Hyun Kim admitted he was a little nervous for his first bullpen session of the spring, which is why he threw his pitches with a little more strength Tuesday morning as his teammates -- and the crowd of reporters and photographers, most of them Korean-based -- got their first look of the Korean lefty on the mound.
But the increased effort isn’t what stood out from the session -- it was the length.
Kim threw more than 50 pitches, and each one seemed to hit catcher José Godoy’s mitt a little harder than the one before. Starters are generally asked to throw 30-40 pitches in their first spring outings, but Kim said he has been throwing 60-70 pitches in his bullpen sessions to prepare for the Cardinals’ first spring game on Feb. 22.
“It’s just a normal thing for me,” Kim said Tuesday through his translator, Craig Choi.
After signing a two-year, $8 million deal in December, Kim has been adamant that he’s open to any role with the Cardinals -- and his flexibility to be a left-handed option out of the bullpen is an asset -- but he’s eyeing that fifth rotation spot. Tuesday’s bullpen showed he might be ready for it, at least from a workload standpoint. Cardinals pitchers and catchers reported to camp Tuesday, and their first official workout is Wednesday.
“I don’t think I’m ahead of other guys right now, like the other players,” Kim said. “They’re preparing for the first game too, so right now it’s just about being ready for the exhibition game.”
Kim’s preparation for his first Major League Spring Training, though, started shortly after he signed with the Cardinals. He trained for a few days in January with Blue Jays pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and talked to him about life in the United States. And before coming to camp on Sunday, Kim spent time in Vero Beach, Fla. -- about an hour north of Jupiter -- training with his old team, the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization.
Despite 12 seasons in the KBO, the 31-year-old is treating his first Major League season as his rookie campaign, and he can’t wait to earn a spot on the roster.
“The season has to come, but any role the team wants, [I] want and will accept that,” Kim said Monday.
In the KBO last season, he went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts over 190 1/3 innings in 31 games (30 starts). Over those 12 seasons in the KBO, Kim has a 3.27 ERA and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
As Kim adjusts to life in the United States and inside the Cardinals clubhouse, it remains to be seen how his talent will translate to the Majors. But he knows at least one thing he’ll have to adjust to once games come around.
“Major League baseball hitters, compared to Korean baseball hitters, there’s a lot more sluggers, they hit the long balls,” Kim said. “Just trying to locate the balls down low more compared to when I was in Korea.”