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(2nd LD) Cardinals' closer Oh Seung-hwan eyes World Series berth

All Headlines 14:12 January 06, 2017

(ATTN: CORRECTS division in para 17; ADDS more throughout)

INCHEON, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- St. Louis Cardinals closer Oh Seung-hwan said Friday he will put aside personal glory to help the club reach the World Series.

The South Korean right-hander left for Miami, Florida, to begin his offseason training in earnest. He will work out with a personal trainer there before moving over to Jupiter, also in Florida, in mid-February for the Cardinals' spring training.

The 34-year-old began his rookie season last year as a setup man before replacing struggling Trevor Rosenthal as the closer in mid-season. Oh ended the year at 6-3 with 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA in 76 appearances, striking out 103 batters in 79 2/3 innings.

In the National League, Oh was 10th in saves and seventh in appearances. Though he appears to be entrenched as the Cards' ninth-inning man, Oh said he feels the job is still up for grabs.

"I have to prepare for the season really hard to be the closer again, and I'll have to go through the competition in spring training," Oh told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "But I won't think about the number of saves. We've got a stronger team this year, and the primary goal is to make the World Series."

Oh Seung-hwan of the St. Louis Cardinals smiles during a press conference at Incheon International Airport on Jan. 6, 2017. (Yonhap)

Oh, following a successful run in both Korea and Japan, signed with the Cardinals in January last year and didn't leave for Jupiter until Feb. 11. This year, Oh said he feels "a lot more comfortable" because he won't have to worry about his immediate future.

"Because I've already experienced major league spring training, I think I will be able to use my time more efficiently," Oh added.

Oh said he often "experiments" with his repertoire at camps but added, "The most important thing is to polish up the pitches that I am able to throw."

Oh may have to halt his U.S. training if he is named to the national team for the World Baseball Classic (WBC), which starts in early March. South Korea manager Kim In-sik initially left Oh off the roster, citing the public's discomfort over the player's illegal gambling history. But with the pitching staff having lost some key arms to injuries, calls for Oh's inclusion have gained traction in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, Kim said he hadn't yet decided what to do with Oh because the team may have to add an extra starter instead of a reliever. Kim insisted, however, that Oh is "clearly someone that we need." Kim and his coaches are expected to meet sometime next week to determine Oh's national team status.

When pressed about the possible WBC appearance, Oh said he will simply follow the decision made by the national team.

The deadline to submit the final WBC roster is Feb. 6. Though Oh was kept off the 50-man provisional roster, he may still be named to the 28-man final squad.

"A player always has to be ready to compete," Oh added. "I will try to put myself in a situation where I can pitch right away (for the national team)."

Even if Oh is put on the South Korean team, he will still have to get the green light from the Cardinals. The WBC has always been held in early March, when major league clubs are in the midst of spring training before the new season. Even though the tournament is organized by Major League Baseball, big league clubs have been reluctant to release their players because of injury concerns.

Two other South Korean major league players, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers and Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles, are on the 28-man national team for the time being, but manager Kim said they both remain doubtful because of their clubs' misgivings.

Oh also said he's bracing himself for a possible showdown with former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) slugger Eric Thames, who parlayed an MVP-winning stint here into a three-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cardinals and the Brewers are both in the National League Central, and will face each other 19 times in 2017.

Oh is the KBO's career leader in saves with 277, while Thames belted 124 home runs in three seasons starting in 2014. He was voted the league MVP in 2015 after hitting 47 home runs and stealing 40 bags, the first 40-40 season in the KBO.

The two have never faced each other here because Oh left for Japan's Hanshin Tigers before the 2014 season, which was Thames' first in the KBO.

"I've been following the KBO closely, and I obviously know about Thames," Oh said. "He had a great run in Korea. I'll be careful with him because we will face Milwaukee a lot this year."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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