There were plenty of unknowns when Buffalo Bisons pitcher Scott Copeland flew to South Korea in the spring. He was leaving the U.S. to join the LG Twins of the Korean Baseball Organization, opting against returning to the Bisons after training camp with the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was the first time he’d ever played for a team outside North America, and in addition to the general culture shock, he didn’t speak any Korean. It was he and his wife in a whole new world.
“We kind of figured everything out,” Copeland said. “I learned a lot of stuff.”
Copeland, a top-notch pitcher at the Triple-A level, wasn’t able to translate his domination in Korea. He posted a 5.54 ERA and 1.784 WHIP and averaged nearly an inning less a game than he did the year prior in Buffalo.
While many players jump over to international leagues to play, it’s arguably hardest on a pitcher. You have to deal with nearly an entirely new batters you have know scouting report on. That’s before any changes to the game itself.
“It was different,” Copeland said. “Strike zones were smaller. Fields were smaller. I got better as a pitcher though.”
Copeland’s journey with LG turned out to be a short one. He was waived on July 8 after 13 starts. Sixteen days later, he was back with the Bisons after signing a minor league contract with Toronto.
It’s no secret why the Blue Jays wanted him back in the organization. Copeland was named the Bisons’ Most Valuable Player last season, leading the team with 11 wins and posting an impressive 2.95 ERA.
His numbers through four games this season look similar. He’s given up two earned runs or less in each appearance.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a process. He went more than two weeks without playing between his time in Korea and Buffalo, meaning he was on a pitch count early on. He was taken out of his first game back after just three innings.
“It was almost like spring training all over again,” Bisons manager Gary Allenson said. “He was trying to get his feet under him and get deeper into games and get that sinker going.”
Things are moving in the right direction now. After lasting 5.1 innings in his last two starts, he went six on Tuesday against the Indianapolis Indians after a rough start. Copeland gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Pedro Florimon.
“It was a real wake-up call,” Copeland said. “Hey, I’ve got to lock it in now. Let’s go.”
Lock it in he did. Copeland kept the Indians off the scoreboard for the next five innings. He credited catcher A.J. Jimenez for his success.
“We got in a groove, me and him,” Copeland said. “We got after it, starting pounding the zone and getting ground balls.”
After losing star pitchers Wade LeBlanc and Drew Hutchison to trades, the Bisons could get used to the sound of that.