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(LEAD) S. Korea to start southpaw Kim Kwang-hyun vs. Japan to open Premier 12

All Headlines 18:47 November 07, 2015

(ATTN: ADDS managers' comments, details)

SAPPORO, Japan, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will start left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun for the opening game of the Premier 12 baseball tournament against Japan on Sunday.

The showdown between the regional rivals will start at 7 p.m. at Sapporo Dome. At the pre-game press conference on Saturday, South Korean manager Kim In-sik announced the 27-year-old All-Star in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) as his starter.

Japan will counter with Shohei Otani, a right-hander for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). The 21-year-old will be pitching in his home stadium.

Kim Kwang-hyun, the 2007 KBO MVP, brings a wealth of international experience, having pitched at the 2008 Summer Olympics, the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC) and the 2014 Asian Games.

In the semifinals of the 2008 Olympics, Kim held Japan to two runs -- one unearned -- in eight innings. Yet at the 2009 WBC, he was shelled for eight earned runs on seven hits in 1 1/3 innings.

In 30 KBO games this year, Kim went 14-6 with a 3.72 ERA, with 160 strikeouts in 176 2/3 innings. He mostly throws fastballs and hard sliders, and occasionally mixes in curveballs and changeups.

Kim faced Cuba in a warm-up appearance Wednesday in Seoul, and threw three scoreless innings while scattering three hits.

Otani went 15-5 to lead the Pacific League in wins, while posting a 2.24 ERA. He struck out 196 in 160 2/3 innings, with the arsenal of fastballs and splitters.

Otani allowed two runs -- both unearned -- in two innings against Puerto Rico on Thursday.

South Korean manager Kim said Japan will present an uphill battle at the start of the tournament.

"I think all Group B teams are pretty strong, and Japan may just be the strongest of them all," Kim said. "We've played Japan many times and there's no denying the fact that Japan is just a solid team from top to bottom. In particular, I think Japan has extremely strong pitching."

The Premier 12, organized by the World Baseball and Softball Confederation for the first time this year, brings together the top-12 ranked nations from last year's world rankings. Japan was No. 1 and South Korea was No. 8.

The 12 nations have been paired into two groups of six. South Korea and Japan are in Group B, along with Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic and the United States.

Group A teams are Cuba, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Canada, Puerto Rico and Italy.

The top four nations from each team will make up the quarterfinals. After the game in Sapporo, South Korea will travel to Chinese Taipei for the rest of the group stage and, if it gets there, the quarterfinals.

The semifinals and the final will be held at Tokyo Dome in the Japanese capital.

And with Japan playing the host to key contests, Hiroki Kokubo, the Japanese manager, said his team must win the championship "in order for the tournament to grow further."

On the South Korean starter, Kim Kwang-hyun, Kokubo said, "He has an outstanding fastball and slider. He can pitch in any league in the world."

The manager said he was also wary of bombers in the South Korean lineup, singling out Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes and Lee Dae-ho of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks as the two dangerous bats.

Both are big-bodied, power-hitting first basemen, and they're expected to bat in the heart of the order while sharing first base and DH duties.

Both are also pursuing major league careers. Earlier Saturday, the Heroes announced they've accepted a bid of US$12.85 million by a yet-to-be identified major league club for Park, who was posted for a silent auction earlier in the week. Park told reporters in Sapporo that the amount was more than what he'd expected.

Lee, the reigning Japan Series MVP who set career-highs in home runs and RBIs in the NPB regular season, declared his intent to play in the majors on Tuesday, opting out of the final year of his three-year deal with the Hawks.

Lee and Park went a combined 1-for-10 with six strikeouts in two exhibition games against Cuba on Wednesday and Thursday.


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