By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Voting on the Prospect League All-Star game has yet to begin, but Jaesung Hwang has the numbers that seem to make him a sure thing.
The right-hander has not allowed an earned run in four starts for the West Virginia Miners, the corresponding ERA of 0.00 tying him for the league lead. He has a 3-1 record — that one loss is very misleading — including two complete games, and he has 24 strikeouts to just one walk in 29 innings. He has yielded just 16 hits (opponents are hitting .165 against him) and his WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) is 0.59.
Of those 29 innings, 22 of them have come against Butler, each one seemingly more masterful than the last.
Ironic, then, that the All-Star game will be played in Butler, Pa.
“Oh, really?” Hwang said, smiling. “They’re going to hate me.”
Hwang isn’t getting ahead of himself. If he’s going to be an all-star, league managers will have to vote him in, and he is helpless in that matter.
All he can do is continue to prove himself, which has not been a problem thus far.
“J is a special kid. I really like him. He (keeps) to himself,” Epling said. “He has his own way of doing things, which I don’t have a problem with. When a player pitches as well as he does and understands who he is as a pitcher, that’s very important. A lot of guys try to be something they are not. He understands what his weaknesses and strengths are.
“And then he is a very good student of the game. I have some very good conversations with him. He has a plan and he can stick to the plan, and that’s very special at this level. That’s big league stuff.”
The importance of Hwang’s mental approach to his success is obvious.
“My mental approach over the last year has not changed,” Hwang said. “I’m always zoned in. I mean, I will goof off when I am not pitching, but the day before and the day that I pitch I’m just totally zoned in and go through my routine — I have a routine that I do — what I eat and when to rest and what-not. Just doing to same thing over and over again since a long time ago has always helped my pitching success.”
What he has done over and over again lately is dominate the BlueSox. He was 2-0 against them before last Saturday’s game in Butler, which resulted in the only blemish on Hwang’s record.
The Lipscomb University product actually pitched even better this time around, allowing just three hits in eight innings. But two errors by the Miners cost Hwang a 2-1 loss.
“I was surprised. I thought they were going to have a better approach against me,” Hwang said. “I guess they didn’t adjust to it. Maybe it’s because I have six pitches and I can always mix it up however I want. It’s never going to be the same.”
Epling believes Hwang has earned a mental edge over Butler’s hitters.
“I think the other guys are intimidated by him,” Epling said. “I hope I don’t give them ammunition for the next time he goes there, but I think they know he’s really that good. Everything he pitches moves — how do you combat that?
“Even in the loss, Anthony (Rebyanski), the Butler coach, came and shook his hand. He makes that type of impact on the people around him. If he stays healthy, I think he will be the one guy that I can really, truly say that he could go far at the next level.”
Although it was one of his better performances, Hwang was disappointed.
“Being a competitor, who wouldn’t be?” Epling said. “He didn’t have any negative feedback (from the coaches). He was disappointed that he lost, but he understood that he threw well and he did his job. There are some things you can control and some things you can’t. He did what he was supposed to, and then you let the chips fall where they may.”
Hwang’s reliance on his mental approach was tested in an outing against Chillicothe on June 14. He didn’t find out he was going to pitch until he arrived at the field, about three hours before game time.
“I went into my routine right then and there,” Hwang said. “When I pitched against them, I didn’t really have a lot of run support, but that doesn’t really affect me because whether we are winning by 10 or one, I’m going to be (mad) anyway if I give up the run.”
Of course, he didn’t. The Miners won 1-0 as Hwang went the distance in the first game of a seven-inning doubleheader.
Epling, for one, was not surprised.
“He’s very aware of his own body. As coaches, we can look on the outside but we can’t look on the inside,” Epling said. “J understands his body and how he feels. We talk about how he prepares before he (pitches). I think that is as much (a part) of his success as his phsyical ability. You have a lot of players who have physical ability but their mental state is not what it needs to be.
“I think when his physical ability reaches his mentality, you’ve got something special.”
— E-mail: gfauber@