Na is aiming high and connecting

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Na is aiming high and connecting

MIYAZAKI, Japan - At the first practice game of the Kia Tigers’ spring training camp here, 2009 Korean Series MVP Na Ji-wan did not want to disappoint. And he didn’t.

The 25-year-old outfielder stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning and smashed a two-run homer over the left field fence. The home run came off an inside-high fastball from southpaw Park Kyung-tae.

“If Kim Sang-hyeon was the surprise star for us last season, Na will have a great season for the Tigers this year,” said Kia manager Cho Beom-hyeon. “Na used to struggle to hit that pitch, but his swing has gotten a lot sharper. He’s starting to go after high pitches.”

In his second season in the Korea Baseball Organization, Na hit 0.263 with 23 home runs. He’d clear the outfield fence when he made solid contact with the ball, but his accuracy was dicey. His swing resembled an uppercut, making him weak against the high and inside throw.

The turning point came after the series-winning home run in game seven of the 2009 Korean Series. SK’s Cha Byung-ryong had tossed a high fastball, but Na responded with a compact swing. It was the type of swing he’d failed to show during the season - and he’s drawn on that experience.

“I wouldn’t change that Korean Series-winning homer for a jackpot-winning lottery ticket,” said Na.

Since the heroic play in the Korean Series, Na has grown confident that he can join Kim and Choi Hee-seop in the middle of Kia’s batting order. And with training, he’s leveling his swing.

“This is Na Ji-wan’s year,” said Kia assistant coach Hwang Byung-il. “The confidence he gained from last season’s playoffs has translated to a psychological and technical improvement.”


By Kim Seek [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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