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The past two years have been ones Kim Jae-hwan (36, Dusan Bears) would like to forget. He sweated thicker than anyone else last year and raised everyone’s expectations. Now, he’s showing that he’s changed.

Kim Jae-hwan started in left field as the No. 4 hitter against the visiting SSG Landers in the 2024 Shinhan SOL Bank KBO League at SSG Landers Field in Incheon on March 3 and went 1-for-3 with a walk, a hit, a stolen base, two RBIs and a run scored, including a solo shot in the first inning.

With his second home run of the season, Kim continued his hot hitting, batting .324 (12-for-37) with two home runs, eight RBIs, a .413 slugging percentage, a .541 on-base percentage, and a .954 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

It’s been a long slump, but it looks like it’s finally coming to an end. Lee Seung-yeop, who took over as manager last year, had high hopes for Kim Jae-hwan. He is a hitter who can hit close to 30 home runs, but in 2022, he hit only 23 home runs, 72 RBIs, and a .248 batting average.

Same left-handed home run king. There were high hopes that he would be able to help Kim break out of his slump, as he’s been there before. However, Kim had one of his worst years ever. He batted just .220 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs.

After the season ended, Jae-hwan asked to work on his finishing touches, and Lee stood by his side as a training assistant. He even traveled to the Kang Jeong-ho Academy in the United States at his own expense. Lee noticed a difference in Jae-hwan’s swing from spring training.

It looks like it’s not for nothing. Kim Jae-hwan has been hot at the plate since the start of the season. He has only gone hitless twice in 10 games. After the opening game, he has reached base in nine consecutive games.

When asked about Kim’s hot hitting before the SSG game on Feb. 2, manager Lee Seung-yeop laughed and said, “I’ve talked about it too much.” He added, “In the past, he used to use only one side (of the bat), but now he’s hitting a lot of balls that use both sides. In the KT game, he hit a ball that hit the fence directly, which is something I didn’t see last year,” he praised.

“He keeps hitting balls like that, and when I look at him from the sidelines, I think he’s going to hit a lot of good balls in the future,” he said, adding, “He’s not at the top of his game yet, but he’s on his way to the top. If he continues to hit with the same mindset he has now, he will become a more fearsome hitter in May, June, and even July and August. I think we will see the same Kim Jae-hwan that was good in the past, and only then will 사설토토 Doosan’s ranking go up.”

On this day, Kim Jae-hwan repaid his manager’s faith. In the top of the first inning, with runners on first and second, he pulled a fastball from Oh Won-seok for a two-run shot over the right field wall. What’s even better is that he did it off a left-hander. He is batting just .214 (3-for-14) against left-handers this season, but the home run will give him more confidence.

When we met at the spring training camp in Sydney, Australia, Kim said that he consciously tries not to think about his past struggles or whether something has changed. However, he said that last year’s lack of success actually poisoned his desire to try new things. This winter has been a process of finding the good old days, and the team’s confidence has been growing through the exhibition games and early-season surge.

Doosan’s three-game losing streak has dropped them to 4-6 and seventh place, but Kim Jae-hwan’s home run could be the one that leads to more than three wins in the future. As manager Lee Seung-yeop said, the more Kim Jae-hwan comes alive, the higher Doosan can look.

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