Korea makes do with half a team

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Korea makes do with half a team

The Korean national baseball team will start its preparations for the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Premier12 today.

Among manager Kim Kyung-moon’s 28-man roster, only 10 players were actually able to turn out in Suwon on Thursday. As the KBO is still in the early stages of the postseason, it won’t be until the last day of October that the whole of Team Korea can practice together.

Korea is scheduled to play practice games against Puerto Rico on Nov. 1 and 2.

According to the current schedule, the final game of the Korean Series, Game 7, is scheduled to be played on Oct. 30. As the Korean Series is played in a seven-game series, it could end earlier. But if any games have to be rescheduled, the Korean team will be a very difficult position.

The KBO started this year with the best intentions. The regular season had its earliest start ever to ensure it didn’t clash with the Premier12 at the end of the year.

But due to one too many rain and fine dust cancellations, the 2019 season has become one of the longest ever. Making matters worse, due to a number of typhoons in September, the makeup games also had to be postponed.

Although there haven’t been any rain cancellations since the wildcard game, if there are any in the next round of the playoffs or in the Korean Series, the season could get delayed once again.

Since the Doosan Bears have a ticket straight to the Korean Series after clinching a thrilling regular season victory on the last day, their six players are guaranteed to join the national team late.

In Kim’s roster, the Bears had the most number of players. However, things could get worse if the Kiwoom Heroes make it all the way to the Korean Series, as five Heroes players are set to join the national team.

This means that at least 11 players won’t be able to join the national team until just a few days before the actual tournament starts.

While the national team is missing the majority of its players, Kim isn’t waiting around.

Already, 10 players arrived in Suwon on Thursday so they could get a head start: Won Jong-hyan, Yang Eui-ji, Park Min-woo and Koo Chang-mo of the NC Dinos; Hwang Jae-gyun and Kang Baek-ho of the KT Wiz; Yang Hyeon-jong and Moon Kyeong-chan of the Kia Tigers; Kim Sang-su of the Samsung Lions; and Min Byung-hun of the Lotte Giants.

Yang Eui-ji’s early arrival is a relief for the national team as the pitchers can get to work right away.

This season, Yang was a crucial player for the Dinos. Behind the plate, he successfully led the Dinos’ young pitchers to clinch the last postseason spot, in fifth. As a batter, he successfully stepped into the shoes of Na Sung-bum, who had to miss the entire season due to a knee injury.

Yang topped the league in batting average at 0.354 and hit 20 home runs, becoming the first catcher since Lee Man-soo in 1984 to win the KBO’s batting title.

In addition to Yang Eui-ji, the Tigers’ Yang Hyeon-jong has also joined the national team.

Yang Hyeon-jong had one of the most dramatic seasons this year. He started off with a career worst 8.01 ERA in his first six starts, picking up losses in five of them. Since May, he’s picked up 16 wins and three losses with a 1.17 ERA in his next 23 starts. That performance allowed Yang to lower his ERA all the way to 2.29, and it also was good enough to top the league in ERA.

As Yang Hyeon-jong was given plenty of time to rest after the regular season as the Tigers finished seventh, he is once again expected to lead the Korean team to defend the Premier12 title along with the SK Wyverns’ Kim Kwang-hyun.

In addition to missing more than half of the players, Kim has another headache as he is currently missing a pitching coach. Jeong Min-chul was appointed as the Hanwha Eagles’ general manager on Tuesday and had to immediately step down from his position with the national team.

Korea will start its group stage action with a game against Australia on Nov. 6. at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul.

BY KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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