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(Asiad) S. Korean manager gives sneak peek into baseball lineup

All Headlines 11:09 September 17, 2014

SEOUL, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- As South Korea prepares to defend its baseball gold at the Asian Games starting this week, manager Ryu Joong-il offered a sneak peek into potentially the most devastating lineup in the competition.

Ryu has the luxury of having 23 professionals on his 24-man squad, most of them of All-Star caliber in the top domestic league, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

After the team's first practice in Seoul on Tuesday, Ryu said he will insert his captain, the Nexen Heroes slugger Park Byung-ho, in the cleanup spot.

It's a familiar place in the order for Park, the two-time reigning MVP of the KBO. As the cleanup for the Heroes, he led the league in homers in each of the past two seasons and is back on top this year with 48. He could become just the third KBO player ever to hit 50 homers in a season.

Three of the league's premier hitters are candidates to flank Park in the heart of the lineup.

"Na Sung-bum (of the NC Dinos) or Kim Hyun-soo (of the Doosan Bears) will bat third," Ryu said. "Then either Kim or Kang Jung-ho (of the Heroes) will hit fifth."

Na, a sophomore outfielder, is batting a robust .330 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs, both career highs. Kim, an outfielder who can also play first base, carries a .400 average (34-for-85) in four international competitions. Kim is a career .317 hitter in the KBO.

Kang ranks second to Park with 38 homers and third with 107 RBIs. Both totals are a single season KBO record for a shortstop. Kang is also batting .360.

Ryu said Hwang Jae-gyun, a third baseman for the Lotte Giants hitting a career-best .316 with some pop and speed, will likely be his leadoff man.

Ryu's national team will take on a KBO club, the LG Twins, in a practice game on Thursday in Seoul. The manager said Hong Seong-moo, the only amateur on the staff, will start the game.

"I've only watched Hong pitch in video," Ryu said of the collegiate pitcher. "I will have him pitch two or three innings. If he does well, he could be a reliever when we're in the lead (during the Asian Games). If not, he will maybe start against weaker teams."

South Korea is paired with Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong in Group B, with only Taiwan expected to be competitive against the host.

Ryu said he's most concerned about the health of Kang, who hasn't played in the KBO since injuring a finger on Aug. 30.

On Tuesday, Kang took part in batting practice after taping his injured finger.

Kim Sang-su of the Samsung Lions is the only other natural shortstop on the team, though Hwang has played some shortstop, too. Neither player, however, offers the combination of power, contact ability and defense that Kang does.

"I believe Kang is getting better," Ryu said. "Kim Sang-su could be an alternative, but I think Kang will have to get better."
South Korea opens the tournament against Thailand on Monday and then faces Taiwan on Wednesday and Hong Kong the next day.

Ryu said he hopes the starting pitchers against Thailand and Hong Kong can pitch deep into the games so that he can save his relief pitchers for tougher matches down the road.

Ryu's goal is to beat Taiwan in the preliminary stage and win Group B, and avoid the likely Group A winner, Japan, in the semifinals.

Though Japan will field a team of amateurs, the South Korean team of pros lost to the Japanese amateurs at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, en route to a disappointing bronze medal.

Taiwan will have players with some Major League Baseball (MLB) and U.S. minor league experience.

"I have seen video clips of some Taiwanese pitchers, and they can really throw hard," Ryu said. "We will try to beat Taiwan and run our pitching rotation accordingly."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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