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(LEAD) S. Korean big bats ice cold going into Premier 12 tourney

All Headlines 22:54 November 05, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES comments in last two paras; ADDS photo)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- Two big bats for South Korea will be ice cold going into an upcoming international tournament, a cause for concern for a team hoping to eke out all the runs it can.

In two exhibition games at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul over the past two days, two hulking sluggers, Park Byung-ho and Lee Dae-ho, were 1-for-10 together with six strikeouts, not an encouraging development ahead of the Premier 12 that begins Sunday with a game against Japan at Sapporo Dome.

Lee, the reigning Japan Series MVP for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, didn't start Wednesday's game while dealing with a palm injury. He had one pinch-hit at-bat, and made hard contact on a line drive out to center field.

Lee got the starting nod as the designated hitter on Thursday, but was 0-for-2 with a strikeout. He was lifted for pinch hitter Kim Hyun-soo in the fifth.

Lee, who announced his intent to reach Major League Baseball (MLB) as a free agent on Monday, didn't help himself before a handful of big scouts in attendance.

He set career-highs with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs during the regular season, and batted 8-for-16 with two home runs and eight RBIs to lift the Hawks over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in five games for the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) title. Though it may be a small sample size, Lee wasn't nearly as dominant in his two games here, with his injured right hand apparently still giving him problems.

Park, coming off his second straight 50-homer season for the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), looked even worse at the dish. Batting behind Lee in the No. 5 hole, Park was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts on Thursday. A day earlier, he was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

It wasn't just the sheer number of the Ks that was disconcerting, but the way he went down. He often missed badly on breaking pitches, getting way out in front of mid-70s curveballs that dropped into the strike zone.

Park, too, is pursuing a big league career. He was posted for big league clubs earlier this week and will soon find out which team has bid how much for the exclusive right to negotiate with him for 30 days.

On a brighter note, both players have strong track records in international play.

Lee has been a national team mainstay since the 2006 Asian Games. He was part of the gold medal-winning teams at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. In 31 career games at three Asian Games, one Olympics and two World Baseball Classics, Lee has gone 35-for-95 (.368) with six home runs, 33 RBIs and 61 total bases, with only eight strikeouts.

Park's sample size is much smaller, for he made his international debut at last year's Incheon Asian Games. In helping South Korea to the gold medal, Park overcame a slow start and batted 6-for-19 (.316) with two homers and five driven in.

The two players, expected to share first base and DH duties throughout the tournament, must find their old strokes if South Korea is to go deep into the tournament.

Their manager, Kim In-sik, said he has unwavering faith in the two players.

"I don't think Lee Dae-ho is 100 percent, and he might have been too conscious of his pains," Kim said. "And Park Byung-ho didn't see a lot of pitches to hit. Their pitchers made great pitches whenever he came to the plate. But I think both of them will come through when it counts."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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