Doosan Bears side arm Choi Won-jun (29) can’t seem to find his groove.

Choi started a game against the NC Dinos of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at Changwon NC Park on May 15, giving up seven runs on seven hits (one home run) and three walks in three innings with 86 pitches and two strikeouts. He was removed from the first-team roster on March 31 due to repeated poor performances and has yet to regain his form after taking a whopping 15 days off. Doosan fell to 3-10 with Won-jun Choi in the lineup and lost their second straight game.

Choi’s fastball touched 146 mph on the day. Based on his velocity alone, it appears that the second team retooling has paid off. However, he was unable to overpower the NC bats. His fastball (41 pitches) had 17 more balls than strikes, while his changeup (14) and curveball (5) had more balls than strikes. His slider (26) was serviceable, but it wasn’t enough to fulfill the duties of a starter.

It was a shaky start. Choi gave up a leadoff single to Son As-seob in left field and a walk to Park Min-woo to put runners on first and second. He got Park back on base with an infield single to shortstop to put runners at second and third, but gave up a two-run double to Jason Martin to give up a 0-2 lead.

In the bottom of the third, he gave up a leadoff double to Son Ah-seob. With the bases loaded, he gave up an RBI single to Park Min-woo to make it 0-3, then gave up a double to put runners on first and second before giving up an RBI double to Yoon Hyung-joon to make it 0-5.

Choi didn’t last much longer on the mound. He was forced to come off the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning after giving up back-to-back singles to 안전놀이터 Park Se-hyuk and Kim Joo-won. He had 86 pitches to spare, but Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop opted for an early exit. With runners on first and second and no outs, reliever Lee Byung-hun gave up a two-run double to Son Ah-seob in right field, extending Choi’s deficit to seven.

Doosan has struggled with its starting rotation all season. It started in spring training with the loss of No. 2 starter Dylan Pyle to a groin injury, and just when they needed Young Gun Kim and Seung-yong Choi to hold them together, they lost domestic aces Choi Won-jun and Kwak Bin to slumps and back pain.

The recent signing of Brandon Waddell as Dillon’s replacement gave Doosan head coach Lee Seung-yeop a bit of breathing room, and he figured that if he could get Brandon, Kwak-Bin, and Choi Won-Jun through the rest of the season, along with ace Raul Alcantara, his starting rotation would be a little easier to manage.

However, Choi Won-jun’s struggles in his comeback game complicated things. He had given Choi plenty of time to recover from his struggles, but he hadn’t done his homework. If Choi can’t be a constant, Lee needs to have a backup plan. For the time being, Lee is predicting a three-way battle between Jang Won-jun, Kim Dong-joo, and Choi Seung-yong for the No. 5 spot, and he’s also preparing Kim Min-gyu, who recently retired from commerce, to start. For now, Kim will focus on recovering his form while receiving selection lessons with the second team, and will be given a chance as an alternate starter when Lee decides the time is right.

Choi Won-jun was the league’s top sidearm who was selected for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He won 10 games in 2020 and 12 in 2021, but has been showing some signs of physical limitations since last year. Before this game, Choi was struggling with a 1-5 record, 49⅔ innings pitched, and a 4.89 ERA in nine games. Won-jun Choi will have a chance to make up for the disappointment of his comeback.

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