If the “young” Korean baseball team at the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 reaches the final, they will face Tatsuya Imai (25-Seibu Lions), a right-handed pitcher selected as a “wild card” by Team Japan.
Japan had earlier touted Imai as its “finals starter” before the start of the APBC.
The APBC, which features prospects from four countries – South Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei and Australia – limits eligibility to players “24 years old or younger or in their third year of professional play,” but allows for three wildcards under the age of 29.
With “specialty pitchers” such as Roki Sasaki (22, Chiba Lotte Merlins) and Shosei Dogo (23, Yomiuri Giants) unable to join the APBC, Japan chose Imai as a wildcard to serve as their ace.
Japan swept Chinese Taipei and South Korea to reach the final at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, on June 19.
South Korea, which beat Australia but lost to Japan, must win its third preliminary round game against Chinese Taipei on Monday at 7 p.m. to advance to the final.
A win over Chinese Taipei will give South Korea a chance to upset Japan in the final.
South Korea lost to Japan 1-2 in the second game of the preliminary round on Sunday.
Japanese left-hander Chihiro Sumida (24, Seibu) shut down the Korean offense with seven innings of three-hit ball and seven strikeouts.
Imai, whom Japan has tipped to start the final, is more highly regarded than Sumida.
Imai has appeared in 19 games this season, going 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA. Sumida was 9-10 with a 3.44 ERA.
Imai throws a fastball that tops out at 90 miles per hour and a changeup, slider, and curveball. He also recently added a fastball that has a similar trajectory to his slider, but has a quicker cut to it.
His fastball is about 10 kilometers per hour faster than Sumida’s.
However, Imai also has a weakness, as his fastball can crumble when he is shaken.
In 131 innings pitched in the Nippon Professional Baseball regular season this year, Sumida walked 41 batters (2.82 per nine innings). Against South Korea, he didn’t walk a batter and allowed just one hit-by-pitch.
Imai allowed 61 walks (4.13 per nine innings) in 133 innings in the regular season this year. The 61 strikeouts are tied for the most in Nippon Professional Baseball 2023.
While Imai’s walks per nine innings have dropped from 5.63 in 2021 and 5.13 in 2022 to 4.13 this year, he still gets himself into trouble with walks.
This means that batters facing Imai will need to be patient.
A win against Chinese Taipei would give South Korea a chance to figure out how to deal with Imai, who is known as a “fastball” pitcher.
“We want to beat Taiwan and play Japan one more time,” said Ryu Jung-il. “If we make it to the final, we will study the Japanese pitcher’s strategy and play a better game.” 안전놀이터