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(2nd LD) Cardinals closer Oh Seung-hwan added to nat'l team for World Baseball Classic

All News 14:50 January 11, 2017

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES throughout with roster change, more details)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- St. Louis Cardinals closer Oh Seung-hwan on Wednesday was added to the national baseball team for the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC).

Despite recording 19 saves with a 1.92 ERA as a major league rookie last year, Oh was initially kept off the 28-man roster announced in November because of off-field trouble. A South Korean court fined him in January 2016 on illegal overseas gambling charges, and manager Kim In-sik faced huge backlash when he first hinted he would look past Oh's gambling history to pick him.

Calls for Oh's inclusion had gained traction recently, however, with the already thin pitching staff getting decimated by one injury after another.

Kim withheld a decision on Oh last week, saying he would have to speak with his coaches to determine if the team needs a new starter or reliever. That decision came Wednesday after the preliminary meeting of players and coaches in Seoul.

"Oh Seung-hwan is a player we absolutely need," Kim said. "So we decided to put him on the national team."

South Korea will host the first round at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, facing Israel, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei, starting March 6.

The players and the coaches were briefed by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) at a Seoul hotel on the upcoming training and competition schedules, and they also got their first close look at the uniform and equipment, including the official tournament ball.

With the deadline to finalize the team falling on Feb. 6, manager Kim has already made a few roster tweaks owing to injuries and off-field incidents.

Last week, Kim cut Pittsburgh Pirates' infielder Kang Jung-ho following his DUI arrest in December -- his third since 2009 -- while also taking two other injured players off the roster.

Members of the South Korean national baseball team gather at a preliminary meeting ahead of the World Baseball Classic in Seoul on Jan. 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

Two other major leaguers on the team -- Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers and Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles -- are also question marks because of their clubs' reluctance. Manager Kim said the Rangers have told the KBO that they'd rather not have Choo compete at the WBC. He said Major League Baseball (MLB) and its players' association will further discuss big league players' availability for the tournament and will share the final results with the KBO by Jan. 20.

The situation with Kim Hyun-soo is more complicated. The Orioles have told the Korean league that the player was reluctant to play at the WBC, but Kim himself has denied he has ever said such things.

Manager Kim said he planned to speak with the player later Wednesday.

"If the Orioles allow players from other countries to compete but oppose Kim Hyun-soo's participation, then we'll have to lodge a complaint," the manager added.

The three previous WBC tournaments all opened in early March, with major league clubs in spring training ahead of new seasons. Though Major League Baseball (MLB) organizes the event, its clubs haven't exactly been enthusiastic about releasing their players because of injury concerns.

Choo, 34, missed 114 games last year and had four trips to the disabled list while Kim was a part-time player as a rookie last year and will have to compete for playing time in spring training.

The full national team meeting will be on Feb. 11, on the eve of the Okinawa camp. South Korea will face two Japanese pro clubs, the Yomiuri Giants and the Yokohama DeNa Baystars, in tune-up games on Feb. 19 and 22.

South Korean national baseball team manager Kim In-sik (R) and pitching coach Sun Dong-yol attend the team's preliminary meeting ahead of the World Baseball Classic in Seoul on Jan. 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea will return home on Feb. 23 and play three more practice games between Feb. 24 and 28, likely against other WBC participants not in the same group as South Korea.

The official WBC practice opens on March 1.

South Korea made it to the semifinals at the inaugural WBC in 2006 and finished runner-up to Japan in 2009, with Kim In-sik at the helm in both years. In 2013, however, South Korea failed to make it out of the preliminary round.


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