Korea looks for unique insight into Japan team

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Korea looks for unique insight into Japan team

How much of an advantage can two Japan-based players give to Korea’s national team when they meet Japan?

The Korea national baseball team heads to Japan today for the opening game of the Premier 12 tournament at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday against Japan.

Korea is in Group B along with Japan, the United States, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico. After playing Japan, the team will move to Taiwan to play the rest of the group qualification games until Nov. 15.

To get every possible edge, Korea national team’s analysis team chief Kim Si-jin, who previously managed Nexen Heroes and Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization, has called on Lee Dae-ho and Rhee Dae-eun who play in the Nippon Professional Baseball league (NPB).

“Both have played in Japan and know the opponents better than any other player,” said Kim. “Unlike our staff, they can explain what it really feels like on the field.”

Kim said a session will be held with Lee and Rhee on Saturday with the rest of the team to talk about the quirks and styles of the Japanese national team. He hopes the two players can give them tips on techniques the Japanese players might use.

Lee, who on Tuesday announced his goal to play in the Major League Baseball next season, played in the NPB for four seasons with Orix Buffaloes and SoftBank Hawks.

The 33-year-old slugger had a .293 batting average, 98 home runs and 348 RBIs in 570 games in Japan. He won two Japan Series titles with the Hawks, while being named as Japan Series MVP this year.

Rhee is right-handed pitcher for Chiba Lotte Marines. The 26-year-old went 9-9 with 3.84 ERA this season. For the friendly game on Wednesday with Cuba, he appeared as the second pitcher behind lefty starter Kim Kwang-hyun and shutout Cuban batters for four innings.

“I have pitched against most of the Japanese players,” said Rhee last week. “I can give information about Japanese players to my teammates.”

Kim said that the analysis session on Saturday will not be about studying the Japanese team just by looking into videos and data books. Instead, it will be more like Q&A or free discussion with Lee and Rhee.

“In particular Lee has faced many pitches against Otani [Shohei] who is expected to be the starter,” said Kim. “If we run the analysis session as an open discussion, players will understand and absorb the information.”

Manager Kim In-sik also feels the two players will boost the other players’ performance.

“In the past, Lee Seung-yuop did the same thing to help the team in the World Baseball Classic,” said Kim. “Of course, each batter has their own timing and stance, so the advice will not give the ultimate help, but at least Lee can talk about pitches of Japanese pitchers.”

Japan, which is world No. 1 according to World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) rankings, is expected to feature Otani Shohei of Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as its starting pitcher.

The 21-year-old right-handed pitcher went 15-5 with 2.24 ERA in 22 games in the NPB. The two-time NPB All-Star has 162-kilometer-per-hour (100 mph) fastball - which tied the top velocity recorded in the NPB - and can effectively pitch a forkball and a slider.

BY SEO JI-YEONG, JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]
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