NC Dinos pitcher Koo Chang-mo (26) has caused concern for the team with his unexpected early exit.
Koo Chang-mo started the game against the LG Twins in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at Jamsil Stadium on February 2, but was removed after throwing five pitches in a scoreless ⅓ inning.
After getting Hong Chang-ki to fly out to center field in the first inning, Koo hastily signaled to the dugout. NC pitching coach Kim Soo-kyung and the trainers visited the mound and spoke with him before handing the no-pitch sign to the bench. Koo Chang-mo was quickly replaced by Choi Sung-young and left the mound to head to the hospital.
An NC official explained, “Koo Chang-mo was replaced due to discomfort in his left forearm. He will go to the hospital for a checkup.” Despite the sudden departure of their starter, NC managed to pull off a 9-2 upset as their second pitcher, Choi Sung-young, threw six innings of two-run ball.
Aside from the win, if Koo’s injury is serious, it’s a big problem for NC. This was Koo Chang-mo’s return to the first team. He had already been removed from the first team due to left elbow and shoulder fatigue after his start against the SSG Landers on March 17 (five innings, one run). Upon returning to the first team, Koo threw only five pitches before feeling something wrong again.
Hopefully, it’s not a major injury, but it’s discomfort in his throwing arm, so it’s unlikely to be a quick recovery. After participating in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March, Koo appeared in nine games this season, going 1-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 47 innings, 54 strikeouts, 14 walks and 19 runs (17 earned).
In fact, this year’s NC had higher expectations for Koo than ever before. After being drafted by NC in the second round (3rd overall) in 2015, Koo made his first appearance in 2016. From then until last year, he hadn’t pitched more than a regulation inning in seven years. His most innings pitched was 115 in 2017. In 2021, his season was wiped out by elbow ligament reconstruction surgery.
Nevertheless, the NC gave Koo a 6+1 year non-free agent contract worth up to 13.2 billion won last December. The guaranteed amount 안전놀이터 alone is between 8.8 billion and 9 billion won. That’s a lot of money for a player who has never pitched a regulation inning. Because of the responsibility, Koo kept asking Yang Hyun-jong (KIA), who is synonymous with steadiness in the WBC, how to throw a lot of innings.
On top of that, Koo Chang-mo was accepted into the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Commerce) on the first of this month. If he doesn’t win a gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games in October, he will have to enlist in December. He’ll need to be healthy to be considered for the upcoming reserve roster, and the constant injury news could be detrimental to his career. If he doesn’t receive a military exemption, the terms of his multi-year contract will also change. Koo will be under contract for six years if he meets the requirements for free agency by the end of 2024, and seven years if he doesn’t.
It’s hard to see how he can live up to his 13.2 billion won price tag. The results of Koo Chang-mo’s medical examination could be available as early as three days. Will the NC get the “good news” that the injury is minor, and will he be able to overcome it once again to reach his goal of his first regulation inning. He has 96 more innings to pitch this year.