By Yoo Jee-ho
TAICHUNG, Taiwan, March 5 (Yonhap) -- With its World Baseball Classic (WBC) title hopes on the line, South Korea will send left-hander Chang Won-jun to the mound to start against Taiwan in their Pool B clash on Tuesday.
It's about as close as it gets to a must-win match for South Korea, which stands at 1-1 following a loss to the Netherlands and a win over Australia.
If South Korea beats Taiwan and Australia beats the Netherlands Tuesday, then South Korea and Taiwan will move on. In case of a South Korean win and a Dutch win on Tuesday, then Taiwan, South Korea and the Netherlands will end up with the same 2-1 records and a tiebreaker will be necessary to determine the two qualifiers.
South Korea will still have a slim chance to advance even if it loses to Taiwan. A South Korean loss and an Australian win will have South Korea, Australia and the Netherlands all tied up at 1-2. Then those three teams will go to a tiebreaker to see who will finish second behind Taiwan in their pool.
Chang, 27, is pitching for the national police team as he completes his mandatory service in the armed forces. He almost didn't make the WBC squad, and was only named as a replacement for a veteran southpaw Bong Jung-keun, who pulled out with a shoulder injury.
Chang made his professional debut with the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2004. He was one of the league's most durable starters from 2005 to 2011. He picked up 52 wins from 2008 to 2011, and was third in the KBO in 2011 with 180 2/3 innings pitched.
Last year in the Futures League, the South Korean equivalent of the minor league, Jang made 37 appearances, going 6-4 with 15 saves and a 2.39 ERA.
Though there are higher-profile pitchers with more international experience on the national team, manager Ryu Joong-il said he went with the hot player.
"I had about five pitchers as potential starters during the tournament, and Jang has had the best stuff," Ryu said. "I understand Taiwan has a lot of left-handed batters."
Among left-handed hitters for Taiwan, infielders Kuo Yen-Wen and Lin Yi-Chuan, and outfielder Chou Szu-Chi have played in both Taiwanese games so far.
On the mound, Taiwan will counter with left-hander Yang Yao-Hsun, who pitches for the SoftBank Hawks in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).
In his five seasons in Japan, the 30-year-old has a 5-5 record in 38 games with a 3.08 ERA.
He has already pitched in this year's WBC, throwing one inning against Australia last Saturday and giving up a solo home run to Stefan Welch. Yang did strike out two.
Though Yang can hit 150 kilometers per hour (93 mph) with his fastball, he's not particularly known for his command. He has walked 47 batters in 90 2/3 innings in the NPB.
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