Oh stays focused despite missing home country

February 22nd, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Seunghwan Oh’s heart is back home with his family and friends in South Korea. It’s most likely the last year of such loneliness for Oh, who turns 37 on July 15. Nothing wrong with any of that, but he’s not allowing himself to dwell on it.

"Right now, I don’t think that’s where my head is at, to be honest,” Oh said through his interpreter Eugene Koo. “I’m here, so I want to focus as best as I can. There are good guys here, so I want to be part of the team and contribute as best I can.”

The Rockies need Oh to be all-in, the way he was last year when he arrived in a July 26 trade with the Blue Jays and went 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 25 games.

As Bryan Shaw struggled last season, the Rockies sought another right-hander to join closer Wade Davis and setup men Scott Oberg and Adam Ottavino. In Oh, acquired for three Minor Leaguers (first baseman Chad Spanberger, outfielder Forrest Wall and pitcher Bryan Baker), the Rockies found an extreme and dependable strike-thrower.

According to Inside Edge, Oh threw strikes on two of his first three pitches 73 percent of the time in his regular-season outings with the Jays and Rox. Among relievers, only Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was better, at 73.9 percent. Oh struck out 33.3 percent of the right-handed batters he faced, the 10th-highest rate among qualified relievers (Ottavino was fifth at 39.4 percent).

Oh held right-handed batters to a .166 batting average and .459 OPS. Rockies manager Bud Black usually used Oh in the seventh or eighth inning, but Black extended him to 1 2/3 innings in the 2-1, 13-inning victory over the Cubs in the National League Wild Card Game.

It was a continuation of a career of clutch pitching. Oh was a star in Korea with Samsung, and twice set the Japan Central League saves record while with the Hanshin Tigers (39 in 2014 and 41 in 2015) before joining MLB with the Cardinals in 2016. The Rockies, who saw Ottavino sign with the Yankees this winter, believe Oh can be a key member of a bullpen that is fueling postseason hopes.

”I have no reservations or hesitation about his desire to pitch,” Black said. “He’s a pro. He’s a competitor. He has a great deal of pride, and he’s ready to pitch for us.

”He really enjoyed the second half of the year after we traded for him. That re-energized him a bit. He was excited to be a Rockie. On the back end of his contract, he wants to fulfill it with a great deal of solid performance.”

Several reports from Korea noted Oh’s desire to return home. However, he reached 70 appearances (73 total during the regular season) to trigger the Rockies' club option for 2019, at $2.5 million. Oh is embracing this season as a chance to win and learn.

”I try to think of it as a positive way, always. There are definitely some differences there, but I’ve been overseas for six years. I feel pretty comfortable making the adjustment if I need to. It’s more about learning the culture for me. There’s a lot I can get out of this, for me personally.

”It can be a new adjustment, where a player might have to go through differences and hardships. But I always look at it as a learning curve for me. So, it’s just a matter of how you look at it. I just try to treat it the right way.”