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Underachieving righty to start first game at Kia's new ballpark

All Headlines 15:03 March 13, 2014

SEOUL, March 13 (Yonhap) -- An underachieving right-hander was tabbed Thursday to start the first official game at the new stadium for the Kia Tigers in the top domestic baseball league.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club said Song Eun-beom will start the preseason game against the Doosan Bears on Saturday at the new Gwangju-Kia Champions Field.

The ballpark is named after the Tigers' home city of Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul. The Tigers as a franchise have the most championships in the KBO's 32-year history, with nine titles under the previous ownership of the confectionery company Haitai, and one championship under the automaker Kia in 2009.

Song, 29, joined the Tigers in a midseason trade from the SK Wyverns last May. He was 0-1 with three saves and a 3.86 ERA in 4 2/3 innings before the trade and ended the season at 1-7 with five saves and an ugly 7.35 ERA, the worst mark of his career, in 49 innings.

Song's struggles were a microcosm of the Tigers' frustrating 2013 season. A trendy preseason pick to contend for the championship, the Tigers started out hot before faltering badly in the second half.

They were in first place when they acquired Song on May 6 at 17 wins, eight losses and one tie, but ended the season in eighth place among nine teams, at 51-74-3, 1.5 games worse than the first-year NC Dinos.

The Tigers traded for Song hoping that the right-hander, who had been a starter, a middle reliever and a closer over his first 10 seasons, could add versatility to the pitching staff.

It didn't quite pan out that way, but manager Sun Dong-yol still has high expectations of Song for 2014.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Seoul before the Tigers' preseason game against the Nexen Heroes, Sun said Song will have to fill the void left by right-hander Yoon Suk-min, a former MVP in the KBO who recently signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent.

"I think Song Eun-beom has great stuff, among the best in Korean professional baseball," said Sun, a three-time KBO MVP widely considered the league's greatest pitcher ever. Song's fastball can reach up to 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour), and he mixes it with a curve and a slider.

"He worked really hard during the spring training," the manager added. "But he doesn't know how to pitch properly yet. With the kind of intimidating stuff that he has, he has to be in charge when he faces hitters."

In his last preseason appearance last Sunday, Song was credited with a victory over the Samsung Lions after allowing one earned run on three hits in four innings. Song also gave up four walks, which didn't sit well with Sun at the time. Song later blamed it on his lack of command with his breaking pitches.

Sun still has faith in the pitcher, saying Song was the team's MVP during the training camp.

Song said he wants to let his regular season performance do the talking.

"I had a good camp, but I feel like I need to do more work to get ready for the regular season," he said. "In my next start on Saturday, I'd like to show improvements from my previous outing. I hope to make up for last season."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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