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S. Korean manager says Israel 'stronger than thought' at WBC

All Headlines 14:19 March 05, 2017

SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- On the eve of his team's first World Baseball Classic (WBC) game against Israel, South Korean manager Kim In-sik said Sunday the upcoming opponent is "stronger than we thought."

South Korea will take on Israel Monday 6:30 p.m. at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, kicking off the first round play in Pool A. The Netherlands (Tuesday) and Chinese Taipei (Thursday) will be up next. The top two nations after the round robin play will reach the second round in Tokyo.

South Korea had its final practice on Sunday at the dome. Then, at the following press conference, Kim said Israel shouldn't be taken lightly.

South Korea is No. 3 on the world rankings, while Israel, which had to go through a qualifying stage, is 41st.

"Their pitching staff looks good, and their lineup is quite powerful," Kim said. "I got the feeling they are stronger than we thought."

South Korean national baseball manager Kim In-sik looks on as his players put in their final practice before the World Baseball Classic at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on March 5, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea has one active major league player, St. Louis Cardinals closer Oh Seung-hwan, along with All-Stars from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Israel is largely made up of U.S.-born players of Jewish descent, and a few of them bring significant major league experience to the table.

One such player is Monday's scheduled starter Jason Marquis, a 15-year veteran with 124 career big league wins. He pitched in the 2004 World Series for the Cardinals. Israel's first baseman Ike Davis is just five years removed from a 32-homer season with the New York Mets.

Israel defeated two South Korean minor league clubs, Sangmu and the Korean Police Baseball Team, by 1-0 and 5-2 in practice games.

Kim also has to worry about his inconsistent offense and shaky middle relief. The manager said, though, he will put them aside and focus on games that count, starting Monday.

"We don't need to worry about what's gone on so far," he said. "We just have to do the best we can with what we have."

Still, Kim hinted at possible lineup changes from the one he'd used in recent practice games. Kim said he "may make changes" at third base and left field, in particular.

Third baseman Park Sok-min, a slugger for the KBO's NC Dinos, has been dealing with right elbow pains for the past couple of weeks. Park is a virtual lock to hit 20-plus home runs and drive in 90-plus runs every year, but will likely give way to Hur Kyoung-min of the Doosan Bears, who is a better fielder but doesn't hit for nearly as much power. Hur has nine career home runs in 533 career KBO games, while Park has five 20-homer seasons under his belt.

In left field, Choi Hyoung-woo might be benched at least on Monday. He had been mired in a 0-for-17 slump before picking up two hits in Saturday's scrimmage against Sangmu. The manager has stood by his man, saying Choi would eventually turn it around, but despite the two-hit outing, Kim's patience may be wearing thin.

South Korean baseball players put in their final practice before the World Baseball Classic at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on March 5, 2017. (Yonhap)

"My coaches and I are still trying to decide if we should go for offense or defense," Kim said. "We also can't ignore the players' psychological state."

Kim had said Choi appeared to be feeling too much pressure hitting in the middle of the lineup and that messed up his mechanics at the plate.

Choi won the KBO's batting title last year with a .376 average, and also led the league with 144 RBIs, 195 hits and 46 doubles. He belted 31 home runs for his third consecutive 30-homer season. He finished second in the MVP voting.

The 33-year-old, representing the country for the first time, insisted Sunday he will get better.

"My swing was just a little off," Choi said. "But (after Saturday's game), I feel like I'll definitely get better from here and on. And I really want to play well for everyone on this team. With each passing day, I've become increasingly prouder of being on this squad."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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