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S. Korean reliever Oh Seung-hwan to embrace setup role with Cardinals

All Headlines 10:49 February 11, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- Though he has been a closer for the majority of his career, South Korean reliever Oh Seung-hwan said Thursday's he will embrace a setup role with his new major league club.

Oh left home Thursday to join the St. Louis Cardinals in their spring training in Jupiter, Florida. Pitchers and catchers are to report next Wednesday.

Oh, who signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals on Jan. 11, has been a lights-out closer in both South Korea and Japan. He's the all-time saves leader in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), with 277 saves in nine seasons with the Samsung Lions, and picked up 80 saves over the past two years with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

The Cardinals, though, already have an All-Star closer in Trevor Rosenthal. Jonathan Broxton and Jordan Walden are two other relievers with big league closing experience, while left-hander Kevin Siegrist was the primary setup man last season.

Oh, who can make up to US$11 million with incentives, said his mindset won't change, no matter when he enters a game.

"I may be called on to pitch in the seventh or the eighth inning, but I will still regard it as the ninth inning with the game on the line," the right-hander told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "I will have the same sense of responsibility like I was trying to close out the game."

Siegrist went 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings last season, while leading the majors with 81 appearances. Still, the Cardinals' depth chart on their homepage ranks Oh right behind Rosenthal at No. 2 in their bullpen pecking order.

Oh served as a setup man early in his rookie season in 2005 but after establishing the KBO's single-season mark with 47 saves in 2006, he hasn't looked back.

With the Cardinals -- coming off a 100-win season to win the National League Central -- Oh said he'd love to be a part of another winning season.

"My first and foremost goal is to avoid injuries," he said. "I am not concerned about my personal stats. We have a strong ball club, and I hope to make at least a small contribution to the team's success. I'd love to win the World Series."

Oh has built his career on what analysts and opposing hitters have dubbed "a heavy fastball" with late movements. He also mixes it with sliders and forkballs -- with index and middle fingers spread wider than splitter and the ball traveling slower.

"I don't think I will start throwing any new pitches," he said. "I will try to polish the ones I throw and to vary my repertoire."

It should help Oh's adjustments that he will be throwing to catcher Yadier Molina, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and a perennial All-Star. Oh's manager, Mike Matheny, won four Gold Gloves as catcher himself.

"Obviously, getting used to the new surroundings will be the biggest key this spring," Oh added. "But this is a ball club that stresses chemistry and harmony, and I don't foresee any major problem."

Oh had to deal with an offseason gambling scandal, and was fined 10 million won ($8,410) last month. He said the need to redeem himself on the field drove him to work harder this winter than previous years.

"I didn't want to disappoint the fans anymore and I wanted to set a better example," he said. "I know people will be expecting big things now that I am going to the ultimate stage, and I will do the best I can to meet those expectations."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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