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Goh Woo-seok minors, Matsui cheers...San Diego awaits KBO's best closer

Yuki Matsui, 29, one of the top left-handed closers in Japan's professional baseball, signed with San Diego before the offseason, and he was celebrating in the dugout early in the second game of the 2024 Major League Baseball World Tour Seoul Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.

The team's bats had pounded Yoshinobu Yamamoto (26, Los Angeles Dodgers) for five runs in the first inning. Watching from the dugout, Matsui raised his arms, cheered, screamed, and congratulated his teammates. Fellow Japanese pitcher and national team junior Yamamoto was sweating it out on the mound, but on this day, he was clearly the enemy.

In contrast, Go Woo-seok (26, San Diego), who was watching the same scene from the dugout, was overjoyed, but his whole demeanor quickly turned heavy. He tried not to show it, but it was a big shock for him to be left off the opening day roster. The Padres announced their 26-man roster for the season opener against the Dodgers on Tuesday, and Go Woo-seok, who traveled with them to the Seoul Series, was not on it. He continued to practice with his teammates but was not allowed to play.

Both players signed with San Diego ahead of the season and were expected to anchor the team's bullpen. Matsui was one of the best closers in Nippon Professional Baseball, and Gowseok was arguably the best closer in the KBO. There were even speculations that either of them could be the team's closer. However, the opening day odds were mixed. Go, who signed a two-year contract with San Diego, has a minor league veto next year, but not this year.

Unlike Koo, who spent the first two days with a dark look on his face, Matsui made his major league debut. Matsui pitched ⅔ scoreless innings in Game 1 on the 20th and ⅔ scoreless innings in Game 2 on the 21st. His pitches weren't the cleanest, but he worked out of trouble and didn't give up any runs. It was a nerve-wracking start, but in a way, he got over the hump of his first start. Now Matsui can relax a little bit and get ready for the next game.

On the contrary, Koo now awaits a trip to the minor leagues. There is some speculation in the local media that he will be sent to Double-A instead of Triple-A. It's not because he's not good enough for Triple-A. What San Diego is looking for from him now is not his performance in the minors, but his body and his pitches at 100%. They don't even expect 120 percent. If he gives them what he has, I'm sure he'll be good enough for their bullpen. If that's the case, it's better to send him to Double-A and let him focus on his pitches in isolation. It makes sense.

San Diego manager Mike Shields said it was a very difficult decision to send him down. But it's better to give him time to get back in shape now, and at some point, he envisions him coming back fully and finishing the season. I've made sure to convey that to him. He left South Korea again, promising to improve in all areas.

"It was a tough decision to leave him off the roster for the game in Korea, and he handled it very professionally," Schildt said ahead of Game 1 on Tuesday. Again, it was a tough decision, a tough conversation, but he handled it very well," he said, adding, "We have some depth in the bullpen, and that was a big part of the decision." Schildt was quick to point out that Kouzuk's preparation for the season was slower than other players due to contractual and other issues, and that was one reason he didn't catch up to the others. It wasn't his fault, he said, it was the environment.

"We are confident that he will help us at some point," Sylt said. "He just has to continue to work through the process, continue to work on his mechanics, continue to work on his command, continue to work on getting all his pitches to work together. If we do that, he'll be back to help us," he said, hoping for a healthy return.