I’ll admit that I have enjoyed watching KBO baseball. I haven’t been glued to every broadcast on ESPN, and it doesn’t come close to replacing my desire for MLB action. But on its own merits, the KBO has been a decent substitute.
The pace of play is noticeably quicker as each pitch is usually delivered in intervals between 12-15 seconds. And if you watch the games on Twitch, you are treated to the full Korean broadcast experience, commercials and all. Those ads alone — some of which look like they could have been directed by Hunter S. Thompson — are worth getting up at 5:30 a.m.
But the main impetus for my KBO interest is Ben Lively, who pitched for the UCF Knights from 2011-2013. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft and made his debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017. Between the Phillies and the Kansas City Royals, Lively spent three seasons in the bigs before signing a deal with the KBO’s Samsung Lions last August.
He was pretty productive upon his arrival, going 4-4 with a 3.95 earned run average and a 58:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Lively re-upped with the Lions for 2020 and, after today, is now four starts into his season. The three words that I think best describe his year thus far are: rough, unlucky and painful.
Lively fell victim to the home run ball in his 2020 debut, serving up two HRs to the NC Dinos. By the end of his six-inning start, he had allowed four runs on six hits and three walks in a 4-3 loss.
⚔️ NEW PODCAST IS UP! ⚔️ @Jeff_Sharon, @Spokes_Murphy & @StatBoyDrew discuss @UCFDannyWhite's statements yesterday on what having no fans at @UCF_Football means for #UCF's budget, plus all-time @UCFKnights what-ifs and more! https://t.co/nCpf31MMao— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) May 21, 2020
Six days later, Lively came back with his best outing to date. He showed much-improved fastball command against the Kiwoom Heroes and permitted just two runs over another six innings with four strikeouts and one walk. Unfortunately, he got minimal support from the Lions’ offense in a 3-2 defeat. Entering Friday, Samsung’s offense ranked last in the KBO in hits, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Lively’s third start, coming May 17 versus the KT Wiz, lasted all of one inning because of a hand injury he suffered after the game’s leadoff hitter sent a line drive back toward him. Lively, unwisely but instinctually, reached back to snatch the ball with his pitching hand and paid for it. He got hit flush underneath his right ring and pinky fingers. He tried to shake it off and actually stayed in the game, but gave up two runs before the inning was over, thanks in part to this swinging-bunt double.
Double of the Day (so far) featuring KT's Kim Min-hyuk; reminds me a bit of Lee Dae-hyung pic.twitter.com/sthP7D1ZR7— Dan Kurtz (@MyKBO) May 17, 2020
He was shut down after that, and the Lions would lose, 9-2, dropping Lively’s record to 0-3.
That brings us to today, where Lively’s right hand was apparently well enough for him to start on schedule versus the Doosan Bears. Unfortunately, he was not entirely fine:
Lively threw eight pitches today -- all fastballs -- and his velocity topped out at 94 mph. He got that one batter to fly out and then just walked to the Samsung dugout. He didn't appear to be favoring anything. Maybe that hand wasn't ready yet? (2/3)— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) May 22, 2020
It turned out that Lively’s hand wasn’t the culprit behind another early exit. Instead, he was experiencing pain in his rib cage:
There should be more clarity on Lively’s injury within the next few days, but if that rib cage injury ends up being diagnosed as, say, an oblique strain, that could put him on the shelf for a while. It would also drastically cut my KBO watchin’ time. If Lively is able to take his next turn in the Lions’ rotation on schedule, that would probably come Wednesday against the Lotte Giants.
Through 13.1 innings and four starts this season, Lively is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He has a 10:5 K-to-BB ratio and has served up three home runs.
The Lions (5-11) lost Friday’s game and have lost six of their past seven. They are in ninth place in the 10-team league.
May 23 update: And it just gets worse for Lively. He’ll be out until mid-July at the earliest.