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(LEAD) S. Korea overmatched vs. young Japanese right-hander at Premier 12

All Headlines 00:09 November 09, 2015

(ATTN: ADDS details, comments)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea was thoroughly overmatched against Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani in its 5-0 loss in the opening Premier 12 game on Sunday, mustering only two hits in six innings against the 21-year-old.

Otani, the lanky fireballer for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), set the tone from the opening frame, touching 100 miles per hour with his fastball and retiring the side in order.

Pitching in his NPB home park, Sapporo Dome, he struck out two in the second. South Korea got its first hit off Otani with one in the third, when Kim Hyun-soo hit a single to right. He was promptly erased on a 4-6-3 double play by Lee Dae-ho.

Park Byung-ho led off the South Korean fifth with a double to shallow right, and Otani walked the next batter, Son Ah-seop, on four pitches. Yet South Korea failed to take advantage of the suddenly shaky pitcher.

Hur Kyoung-min failed to lay down a sacrifice bunt, fouling off two pitches before striking out swinging on four pitches.

Kang Min-ho also went down swinging on four pitches. Then pinch hitter Na Sung-bum looked at a called third strike for the inning's final out.

Otani had a three-up, three-down sixth before handing things over to the bullpen. For the evening, he struck out 10 in six shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks on 91 pitches.

This year, Otani led the NPB's Pacific League with 15 wins and a 2.24 ERA in 22 starts, while finishing second in strikeouts with 196 in just 160 2/3 innings. He served up just seven homers all year, and looked to be in mid-season form, mixing in blazing fastballs with hard splitters to a great effect.

In contrast, South Korean starter Kim Kwang-hyun lasted just 2 2/3 innings, getting charged with two runs on five hits and two walks.

After Otani left the game, South Korea loaded the bases twice in late innings but failed to capitalize.

In the eighth, No. 3 hitter Kim Hyun-soo went down in three pitches against Takahiro Norimoto, after the hard-throwing reliever gave up two singles and a walk to pack the bases. Kim fanned on a high heat at an 0-2 count for his third strikeout of the evening.

Then in the ninth, with Yuki Matsui on the mound, South Korea got three straight singles. The left-hander survived the last rally by South Korea, striking out Hwang Jae-gyun and getting pop outs from Yang Eui-ji and Kim Sang-su to close out the victory.

The heart of the South Korean order, Kim Hyun-soo, Lee Dae-ho and Park Byung-ho, managed four hits in 12 at-bats but also struck out six times. As a team, South Korea struck out 14 times against three Japanese pitchers.

Park told reporters afterward he wasn't ready to make any excuses after such a futile night at the plate.

"We just have to hit better if we meet Japan again," Park said of the possibility that the two countries could meet again in the semifinals. "Otani threw as hard as we expected. He was a bit shaky with his command at times, but he threw extremely hard. I am sure we all learned something after facing him for the first time tonight."

South Korean manager Kim In-sik said, as hard as Otani threw, he used his devastating splitter to keep the hitters off balance.

"He threw splitters for strikes (early in the count), but with two strikes, he threw them in the dirt," Kim said. "That pattern fooled our players."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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