By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- New foreign pitchers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) are off to mixed starts to the 2013 season, with some showing promise for the future and others struggling to make a good first impression.
The KBO teams are each allowed to sign two foreign players. The NC Dinos, an expansion team playing in their first KBO season, have been granted an extra roster spot for a non-Korean player in a special exception, and all of their three foreigners are pitchers.
The eight other teams have used all of their quotas on pitchers for the second straight season. Of the 19 imports, nine are returning from last season and nine are new to the KBO. One other pitcher, Chris Oxspring of the Lotte Giants, is back for a second tour of duty in the KBO, after pitching for the LG Twins from 2007 to 2009.
The Samsung Lions, the two-time defending champs, let go of Brian Gordon and Mitch Talbot, who combined for 25 wins last year, and acquired Rick van den Hurk and Aneury Rodriguez. Both have yet to pitch for the Lions, however, as van den Hurk is dealing with shoulder pains and Rodriguez, ineffective in the preseason, has only appeared in minor league games.
Among the seven other new faces who have made an appearance, the three Dinos starters have shown some promise for the expansion club.
Adam Wilk, Charlie Shirek and Eric Hacker started in the first three games of the Dinos' history this week. Though the team lost all three against the Lotte Giants by the combined score of 12-3, you'd be hard pressed to blame the starting pitching for the defeats.
Wilk threw six scoreless innings and Shirek gave up just one run in seven innings. Hacker followed up by allowing three earned runs in seven innings, still a quality start.
The three pitchers are collectively called "ACE," after the first letters of their first names. They will need better defense behind them -- the Dinos committed eight errors in the three games and made even more miscues that didn't count as errors -- to truly qualify as aces.
Jo-Jo Reyes, a former big leaguer now with the SK Wyverns, was the opening day starter for his new team, and earned his first KBO win on Thursday in his second start, going seven innings and allowing three runs in the 7-5 win over the Doosan Bears.
The left-hander has struck out 12 in 14 1/3 innings so far and has looked dominant in the process -- so much that some scouts have openly wondered why Reyes is pitching in the KBO instead of the majors.
Lee Man-soo, SK's manager, said Reyes has been as good as advertised.
"He pitched a great game, just as I'd expected him to," he said. "And our fielders finally came through for him. They cost Reyes a win on the opening day and paid him back this time."
Reyes' teammate Chris Seddon has made one appearance. He threw five innings and gave up two runs to take a loss against the Twins last weekend. With the Wyverns off for the next four days, the southpaw's next start will likely fall on next Tuesday.
Garrett Olson, the lanky left-hander for the Doosan Bears, joined the team late in preseason and made his KBO debut last weekend in the team's second game.
He allowed three runs in three innings, but manager Kim Jin-wook said he's willing to be patient with his new acquisition.
"I think he was trying too hard to impress and he ended up leaving his pitches high in the zone," Kim observed. "But he joined us just before the season. It's important for us to build an environment for him to succeed, and I am sure he will make adjustments pretty soon."
Kim also noted that it has been a while since Olson was a starter. His last start in the majors came with the Seattle Mariners in 2009.
The manager praised Olson's willingness to listen.
"Some foreign pitchers may not necessarily listen to what Korean coaches tell them and do their own things," Kim said. "But Olson, like Dustin Nippert (Doosan's other foreign pitcher) and Scott Proctor (who pitched for the team in 2012), has been open-minded. He's been trying to listen to our coaches as much as he can."
Not all foreign pitchers will be afforded such a luxury of time. The KBO teams have historically kept foreign players, pitchers or position players, on a short leash. They invest a great amount of money in these players and often want immediate dividends.
Dana Eveland of the Hanwha Eagles is one such major investment. The Eagles announced in December that they'd signed the former Baltimore Orioles pitcher to a one-year deal worth US$300,000, right on the league's salary cap for foreign players.
However, the Baltimore Sun reported that Eveland had actually signed for $675,000, with another $225,000 available through a performance-based incentive.
The contrasting figures shed light on perhaps the worst-kept secret in the KBO -- that the teams pay their foreign players more money than what the cap allows, often under the table.
The Eagles have said the Baltimore Sun article, which quoted an anonymous industry source, was inaccurate and that they honored the salary cap rule. Whatever the exact amount of his salary is, Eveland has yet to live up to it. He looked shaky in giving up four runs over five innings against the Giants last weekend.
The Twins, the Kia Tigers and the Nexen Heroes have retained both of their foreign pitchers from last season.
Ben Jukich and Radhames Liz are back for their third straight year with the Twins. The Tigers brought back Henry Sosa and Anthony Lerew. This is the third consecutive season with the Heroes for Brandon Knight, and the second in a row for Andy Van Hekken.
Knight led the KBO in 2012 with a 2.20 ERA and 208 2/3 innings pitched and was 16-4. Of 11 pitchers that won at least 11 games last season, eight were foreigners.
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