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Struggling slugger shows signs of life in victory

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

SK Wyverns' slugger Choi Jeong had hit that proverbial rock bottom. He had the worst batting average among 61 qualified batters in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) with .153 before Thursday's game against the Doosan Bears.

The only way for him to go was up.

Choi went 2-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs Thursday, helping the Wyverns to a 6-1 victory at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. Well, Choi is still the worst qualified hitter in the league, but at least his batting average went up to .172.

"I think I am still in the process of getting better," said Choi, who entered the 2020 season with a .290 lifetime batting average and 335 home runs, most among active players and fifth all time. "I am happy to have contributed to the team's victory."

And victories have been hard to come by for the Wyverns, who once suffered a 10-game losing streak and who are stuck in last place by 2.5 games at 4-16. They've had some rotten injury luck, and Choi's struggles at the plate -- he has homered just once in 20 games -- haven't helped.

"I've not been swinging the bat well and at the same time, we've been losing a lot of games," Choi said. "So I've been pressing at the plate quite a bit."

Then came perhaps his best game of the season on Thursday. It came on the heels of a four-walk game on Wednesday, and a 2-for-3 performance on Tuesday.

Drawing four walks in four trips to the plate -- Choi saw 21 pitches -- was a particularly encouraging sign. It meant he wasn't chasing bad pitches and he was happy to take what pitchers gave him instead of forcing the issue. Relative to his poor batting average, Choi has an excellent .346 on-base percentage, thanks to his team-leading 14 walks.

He's drawing walks at a career-high pace, though detractors may argue that Choi isn't being paid 1.2 billion won per season ($970,995) to stroll to first base a few times a game and that he should be hitting with more power.

Living up to those expectations is challenging enough. On top of that, this is also Choi's first season as the Wyverns' captain. The reticent 33-year-old, who doesn't come across as a vocal, rah-rah type of leader, admitted that so much losing has made his job tougher.

"This hasn't been an easy season, but I am trying to make sure everybody, from veterans to rookies, will have fun on the field," Choi said. "This is still early and we have a lot of baseball left. We should try to keep things light." (Yonhap)
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