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(News Focus) S. Koreans go on roller coaster ride in majors in May

All News 10:09 June 02, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- For South Koreans in Major League Baseball (MLB), the month of May started and ended with a bang. In between, there were a quite a bit of ups and downs.

Six South Koreans saw big league action in May, but as the calendar turned to June, one found himself in the minors and another was on the mend. The seventh South Korean, Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, has yet to play in 2016 while rehabbing from a shoulder operation from last May.

Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates made his season debut on May 6 with a bang, belting two home runs and driving in three against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Kang had been out of action since last September, when he suffered serious leg injuries on a hard takeout slide by Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs. The third baseman didn't miss a beat as he slid right into the heart of the Pirates' lineup.

Though he closed out May 1-for-13, Kang still batted a solid .262 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 65 at-bats. The sophomore had 15 home runs in 421 at-bats last season.

Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles had a stronger finish to May. The outfielder had toiled on the bench for most of the month until breaking through with a three-hit game against the Houston Astros on May 25.

It started a string of six consecutive starts for Kim, who batted 7-for-21 in that span with two doubles and his first major league home run, which came against the Cleveland Indians on May 29.

Joey Rickard, a career minor leaguer who played his way into the O's starting lineup at the beginning of the season, has cooled off, while Kim's stock has continued to rise. Kim is batting .360 in 50 at-bats, and on a team with free swingers, he has struck out just eight times while drawing seven walks.

St. Louis Cardinals reliever Oh Seung-hwan has been as steady as they come all season, and May was no exception -- a minor hiccup notwithstanding.

After giving up an earned run on May 1, Oh strung together nine consecutive scoreless outings. Then on May 25 against the Cubs, Oh allowed his first big league homer to Kris Bryant and was touched for three earned runs in one inning. He'd given up two runs in all of April.

Oh, ever the cool customer, bounced back nicely, and closed out the month with three straight scoreless appearances. His ERA ballooned from 1.14 to 2.19 after the Cubs game, but he got it back down to 1.95 after one shutout inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 31.

Park Byung-ho of the Minnesota Twins had a cold May with a .205 average. He hasn't homered since going deep twice on May 13 and is stuck at nine long balls for the season.

Marveling at the sheer distance of his moon shots now seems like a distant memory, as Park continues to swing and miss on pitches in and outside the zone.

According to FanGraphs, Park is making contact on 68.4 percent of pitches he sees, nearly 10 percentage points below the league average. On pitches outside the strike zone, Park's contact rate dips to 46.5 percent, compared with the league average of 62.7 percent. For pitches inside the zone, Park is making contact 78.8 percent of the time, while the league average is 86.2 percent.

He's been flailing at breaking balls so much that another statistics website, BrooksBaseball, said Park has displayed "a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss" on those pitches.

Another big-bodied slugger, Lee Dae-ho of the Seattle Mariners, continues to platoon at first base with veteran Adam Lind. Lee, who bats right-handed, has been getting the bulk of his starts against left-handers, though, ironically, four of his seven home runs this season have come against right-handers. He's batting .290 against righties but .250 versus lefties.

There were calls among Seattle fans and media for more playing opportunities for Lee, who quickly endeared himself to fans with some key home runs. His better-than-expected success early in the season coincided with Lind's struggles at the plate. Lind has picked things up, however, hitting five homers and driving in 20 runs in May, after just one homer and three RBIs in April. He's batting .400 over his past seven games to raise his batting average for the season to .259.

Lee, meanwhile, has done his part to keep the platoon battle relevant, with a line of .260/.302/.560, with five home runs and 13 RBIs in May.

He has hit seven homers in 75 at-bats, compared with Lind's six homers in 135 at-bats.

Elsewhere, career minor leaguer Choi Ji-man had his cup of coffee with the Los Angeles Angels -- going 1-for-18 in 14 games -- before designated for assignment early in May. After clearing the waivers, Choi went down to Triple-A Salt Lake, where he's hitting .326/.418/.478, with a home run and eight RBIs in 12 games.

Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo was placed on the 15-day disabled list (DL) for the second time this season on May 23 with a strained left hamstring.

He missed 40 days earlier in the season with a strained right calf muscle and played in just one game before hurting his left leg. He has appeared in just six games in 2016, batting .188 with an RBI, six walks and one steal.

Ryu of the Dodgers is on the 60-day DL and was forced to push back his scheduled minor league rehab start because of soreness.

He made three rehab appearances in the minors while recovering from a torn labrum that forced him to miss the entire 2015 season. The latest setback means he likely won't return to the majors by mid-June as initially hoped.


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