It looks like the Lotte Giants have found their replacement for Dan Straily, aka the Hairy Ace. Aaron Wilkerson will now take over the title of ‘Hairy Boy’.
Wilkerson started the ninth game of the season against the NC Dinos of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at Sajik Stadium in Busan on April 1 and pitched six innings, throwing 95 pitches with six hits, one walk, four strikeouts, and three runs (three earned). First quality start (6 innings or less) in his KBO career.
Lotte has been plagued by poor performances from its foreign starting pitchers since the beginning of the season. Dan Straily and Charlie Barnes both failed to live up to expectations. Then, during the All-Star break, they pulled out the knife. The player Lotte wanted to replace was Streeley, whose performance had been declining every year.
The player they released and brought in was Wilkerson, who had previously played for the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball. Wilkerson had been a disappointment at Triple-A Oakland Athletics this year, but last year he went 5-5 with a 4.08 ERA in 14 appearances for Hanshin, including a 3-1 record and 1.04 ERA in four games in May, earning monthly MVP honors. Lotte took notice and took Wilkerson under their wing.
Wilkerson’s first start in the KBO was impressive. On March 26, Wilkerson started against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul and pitched five innings, allowing two runs (two earned) on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts to bounce back and save Lotte from back-to-back losses. At the time, Wilkerson displayed excellent command of all his pitches in the strike zone, drawing rave reviews from play-by-play announcer Kim Tae-hyung, who called the KBO’s first seven consecutive Korean Series.
“Every day when we prepare for a game, we train and prepare with the attitude that we have to win,” said manager Larry Sutton before Game 1. “Wilkerson got the win in his last start, and hopefully he can get the win today and get the team back in a good place. I threw about 80 pitches in my last start, and I’m thinking about 100 today. Hopefully, I can get another win and get the team in a good mood.”
Wilkerson lived up to the hype despite the “bad luck. In the first inning, Wilkerson gave up a single to Gun-woo Park with the bases loaded to break up a scoreless start. In the second inning, he retired the bottom of the order of Kwon Hee-dong, Seo Ho-cheol, and Do Tae-hoon with a triple off the bat of right fielder Ahn Kwon-soo, and continued his cruise by retiring the NC bats in order in the third. The bats responded to Wilkerson’s performance with three runs of their own.
But bad luck struck in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the fourth, Wilkerson induced a line drive to right field. However, Ahn Kwon-soo, the right fielder, missed the ball, and the grounder turned into a double. Wilkerson was 먹튀검증 suddenly shaky, giving up three straight hits to Jason Martin, Kwon Hee-dong, and Seo Ho-cheol to cut the deficit to 3-2. However, he was able to strike out Do Tae-hoon and retire Park Se-hyeok to prevent further damage and preserve the momentum in favor of NC.
Despite the bad defense leading to the run, the mood in the dugout was warm. Ahn apologized to Wilkerson in the dugout after the inning, and Wilkerson gave Ahn a thumbs up in return, signaling that he didn’t care.
The most frustrating moment for Wilkerson came in the fifth inning. Wilkerson quickly worked his way through the order by getting Kim Joo-won to ground out to the pitcher and Son Asub to fly out to center field, but he gave up a walk to Park Min-woo in the fifth. He then gave up a two-pitch slider to Park, who hit a two-run double to center field to tie the game. This time, however, the lead was never in jeopardy.
Wilkerson, who had thrown 76 pitches in his first outing, took the mound in the sixth inning with his pitch count over 80 and got Kwon Hee-dong to fly out to right, Seo Ho-chul to ground out to shortstop, and Do Tae-hoon to strike out to end his second outing. Like in his first start, Wilkerson aggressively attacked the strike zone, throwing 95 pitches for 63 strikes, using a fastball that topped out at 148 mph (37 pitches) and a mix of cutters (26 pitches), curves (14 pitches), sliders (9 pitches), and changeups (9 pitches) for his first quality start.
While it’s clear that opponents have yet to fully analyze Wilkerson’s pitches, there’s no doubt that he’s done a great job of scratching Lotte’s itch for the second straight game.