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Three-time S. Korean baseball champs Lions ready for fresh start: manager

All Headlines 14:58 January 13, 2014

GYEONGSAN, South Korea, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- After his team won the past three South Korean baseball titles in a row, Ryu Joong-il, manager of the Samsung Lions, said the club is ready for a fresh start.

The Lions held their inaugural meeting of 2014 at their training facility in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province, about 330 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Afterward, Ryu told reporters the Lions will face a crossroads in the 2014 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season.

"When a team at the top stays complacent, then it's bound to take a fall," the manager said. "Now is the time to shake things up."

Ryu has managed the Lions to the three consecutive Korean Series titles. They're the first team to win the pennant and the Korean Series for three straight seasons. Thanks to the historic accomplishment, Ryu re-signed for three more seasons late last year.

In 2014, Ryu will be in for a tough fight to defend the championship. The Lions have lost their closer Oh Seung-hwan, the all-time career saves leader in the KBO, via free agency to the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Their leadoff man Bae Young-seob, the 2011 KBO Rookie of the Year, has been conscripted into the mandatory military service.

"We have some holes in our lineup now," Ryu said of the two departures. "We need to have a changing of the guards. There will be competition for every starting position."

The manager insisted, however, the Lions won't undergo any drastic change, and 30-something veterans such as Lee Seung-yeop and Chae Tae-in will still have to carry the load.

Lee, the KBO's career leader with 358 home runs, suffered through his worst season as a Lion in 2013, batting just .253 and hitting 13 home runs. Chae, on the other hand, bounced back from a frustrating 2012 to hit a team-high .381 in 94 games last year.

Ryu said he hopes Lee can return to his old self and Chae can duplicate his success in 2014.

"I'd like to use young and speedy players," Ryu said. "But they will still have to produce to get their chance to play. I hope Lee Seung-yeop can belt 30 homers and Chae Tae-in can once again hit for high average, while our young players develop throughout the season."

Asked to rate the Lions' chances for another title, Ryu said his club is the underdog.

"I think the other eight teams have a chance to contend for the championship," he said. "Samsung is the only team with question marks."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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