Korean players ready for new season in Japan

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Korean players ready for new season in Japan

After last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, baseball is finally set to start in that country tomorrow, nearly one month late, and four of five Koreans who play in the Nippon Professional Baseball League will be taking to the field.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Kim Byung-hyun, 32, a former Major League Baseball player who played for teams like the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, injured his ankle last week during practice and will be out for up to six weeks.

But the other four Koreans - Park Chan-ho, Lee Seung-yeop, Kim Tae-kyun, and Lim Chang-yong - are ready to play, though some are more ready than others.

Park, 37, who recorded 124 wins during his long MLB career playing for eight teams, including the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, will be the starting pitcher for the Kansai Orix Buffaloes on Friday against the Golden Eagles.

Park had been expected to be the starting pitcher in the Buffaloes’ season opener against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks tomorrow, but that honor went to Hiroshi Kisanuki because Park struggled during the preseason.

He gave up seven runs in three preseason starts - 13 innings total. But the real problem for Park was balks. He committed six in the preseason - a high number for even the regular season - and one balk against the Saitama Seibu Lions on March 27 allowed a run to score.

Park, however, said he believes he will pitch well in the regular season.

“I know I have the ability to show how I really pitch,” Park told Ilgan Sports.

Park’s teammate, first baseman Lee Seung-yeop, 34, had an unsatisfactory performance in the preseason, with a .188 batting average and just one home run. But Lee, too, said he is confident he’ll be able to step up his game when the season starts this week.

“I feel comfortable and I am getting ready for the season opener,” Lee said.

Lee, who is in his seventh season in Japan, is expected to bat sixth in the lineup for the Buffaloes. The former Yomiuri Giants player grabbed the single-season Asian home run record in 2003 when he hit 56 round-trippers for the Samsung Lions in Korea.

Chiba Lotte Marines first baseman Kim Tae-kyun, 28, will be starting his second season in Japan after helping his team win the NPB championship last year.

Kim was instrumental in the Marines’ final series against the Chunichi Dragons last season, batting .345 and being at the center of most of the team’s offense.

But during the regular season, Kim didn’t stand out. He had a .268 batting average, with 21 home runs, and 92 RBI in 141 games - three of those home runs and 19 of those RBI came in the second half of the season.

Kim said this year will be different.

“I will maintain my pace throughout the season,” Kim said. “I’ve set a goal to maintain a .300 batting average, but if I can hit with accuracy, I think I can also get 30 home runs.”

Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Lim Chang-yong, 34, is looking to lead the Japanese league in saves. The closer notched 35 saves in 53 games last year. Lim is in his fourth season in Japan.


By Kim Seek, Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]
일본야구 12일 개막…한국선수 컨디션 ‘타고투저’
대지진으로 멈췄던 일본프로야구가 다시 뛴다.

일본 센트럴리그와 퍼시픽리그가 예정보다 18일 늦은 12일 정규시즌 개막전을 치른다. 올해는 한국 야구가 낳은 스타 선수들이 대거 일본 무대에서 뛰게 돼 국내 팬들에게 더욱 관심을 끌고 있다.

미국 메이저리그 124승 투수 박찬호(38·오릭스)가 새로운 야구 인생에 도전하고 요미우리에서 이적한 이승엽(35·오릭스)은 재기를 벼르고 있다. 일본 무대에서 검증을 받은 임창용(35·야쿠르트)과 김태균(29·지바 롯데)도 출격을 준비하고 있다. 그러나 빅리그 출신 마무리 투수 김병현(32·라쿠텐)은 왼 발목 부상 때문에 일본 데뷔전이 늦춰질 전망이다.

팀당 144경기씩 치르는 정규시즌에서 오릭스와 지바 롯데·라쿠텐 등 퍼시픽리그 소속팀들은 각각 24차례의 맞대결이 예정돼 있다. 센트럴리그에서 뛰는 임창용은 인터리그에서 퍼시픽리그의 한국인 선후배들과 대결을 펼친다. 12일 시즌 개막전에서는 오릭스-소프트뱅크, 지바 롯데-라쿠텐, 야쿠르트-요미우리 등이 맞붙는다.


박찬호는 스프링캠프에서 개막전 선발투수로까지 기대를 받았지만 시범경기를 치르며 세트포지션에서 보크를 자주 기록해 피칭 리듬이 흔들렸다. 15일 라쿠텐과의 원정 경기에서 일본 데뷔전을 치르는 박찬호는 "실전에 가면 내 공을 던질 수 있을 것으로 믿는다"며 메이저리거 출신다운 자신감을 드러냈다.

지난겨울 야쿠르트와 3년간 총액 15억엔(약 191억원)의 재계약한 임창용은 올해 커브를 장착하는 등 다앙한 레퍼토리를 준비했다. 김병현은 7일 훈련 도중 발목을 다쳐 4~6주의 치료를 받아야 한다고 일본 데일리스포츠가 11일 보도했다.

이승엽은 시범경기에서 홈런 1개, 타율 0.188에 그쳤지만 표정이 밝다. 그는 "편안하게 준비하고 있다. 시즌 개막에 맞춰 몸을 만들었다"고 말했다. 팀 내 6번타자로 나설 예정인 이승엽은 이변이 없는 한 시즌 내내 오릭스 1루를 지킬 전망이다.

김태균의 컨디션도 좋다. 일본 진출 후 두 번째 시즌을 맞는 김태균은 "지난해에는 컨디션 관리에 실패했지만 똑같은 실수를 하지 않겠다. 타율 3할을 목표로 세웠는데 정확하게 치다 보면 30홈런도 가능할 것 같다"고 자신감을 보였다

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