Doosan Bears fans began chanting his name at the top of their lungs when the number 50 player, who hadn’t been seen in 294 days, appeared on August 13 last year against the SSG Landers in Jamsil. Right-hander Lee Young-ha (26, Doosan), a 2016 first-round pick and ace who won 17 games in 2019, was warmly welcomed by the fans. Doosan fans were the loudest cheerleaders of the day, regardless of the team’s 10-run deficit.
Lee entered the game in relief in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 3-13 loss to the KT Wiz in Suwon on Wednesday and threw 1.1 innings of scoreless baseball with 14 pitches, no hits, no walks and one strikeout. His fastball was in top form, topping out at 149 mph and averaging 148 mph, and he mixed in his four-seam slider. Lee looked a little nervous, with a slight wobble in her delivery, but she was all smiles after striking out the first batter she faced to a loud roar from the fans.
In fact, Lee wondered how the fans would greet him. She had been forced to take a hiatus after being indicted by prosecutors on charges of special assault, coercion, and extortion for a bullying incident at Sunlin Internet High School. Lee has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, but he has not been able to escape the criticism of baseball fans. On the first day of his trial, he was acquitted on March 31, proving that he was not wrong, and fans cheered him on even more as he struggled to reveal the truth.
When Lee smiled, Doosan coach Lee Seung-yeop smiled back. Lee signed Young-ha to the first team within two days of his arrival. The bullpen situation has been difficult: Doosan is last in the league with a 5.10 bullpen ERA as of April 4. The team had lost three members 안전놀이터 of its starting rotation – Dylan Pyle, Choi Won-jun and Kwak Bin – and was also struggling with the loss of set-up man Chung Chul-won, who was suspended from the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) due to a drinking scandal.
“Lee Young-ha himself says he’s ready now, but I thought he might still lack a bit of practical experience, but with Chung Chul-won out, we didn’t have much of an alternative,” Lee admitted, adding, “If Lee Young-ha continues to pitch as well as he did in the second team, he’ll probably have to fill Chung Chul-won’s shoes.”
Young-ha may not be perfect yet, but she’s pitched well enough to prove why she’s been included in the starting rotation. Lee will now be able to build a solid back door with Lee and closer Hong Gun-hee.
Lee said, “If I throw the same way (as before), I believe they will like it. I don’t want to get caught up in bad rumors, but I’ve been feeling a lot of things myself. I think it’s a good time for me, and if I do well after that, I think the fans will like me even more,” she said, vowing to do her best to repay the fans’ shouts in the future.