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Defending S. Korean baseball champions to start 20-game winners on opening weekend

All Headlines 14:17 March 13, 2018

GWANGJU, March 13 (Yonhap) -- To begin his team's title defense in South Korean baseball, Kia Tigers' manager Kim Ki-tai won't mess around.

Kim announced on Tuesday that his two aces, Hector Noesi and Yang Hyeon-jong, will each get a start during the opening weekend of the 2018 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season on March 24 and 25. The Tigers, the 2017 KBO champions, will host KT Wiz for the first two games of the season at Gwangu-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, some 300 kilometers south of Seoul.

Kim Ki-tai, manager of the Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization, prepares for the start of a preseason game against the Doosan Bears at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on March 13, 2018. (Yonhap)

Yang was voted the KBO's regular season MVP last year by going 20-6 with a 3.44 ERA. Noesi, who was 20-5 and had a 3.48 ERA, finished third in the MVP voting.

"We'll go with Hector and Yang Hyeon-jong for our first two games of the season, as long as they don't get injured or sick in the coming days," Kim told reporters before the start of the Tigers' preseason game against the Doosan Bears at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field.

"We're opening the season at home, and I am sure our fans would love to see those two pitchers on the same weekend," the manager added.

This wasn't as much of a no-brainer as it seems. Noesi and Yang front a top-heavy rotation, with American left-hander Pat Dean slotted into the third spot. Right-hander Im Gi-yeong, who had a fine 2017 season as the No. 4 starter, is out with a shoulder injury, and the drop-off after Noesi, Yang and Dean is considerable on the Tigers.

To ensure more balance, Kim said he briefly contemplated saving Yang for the start of the next series against the Samsung Lions from March 27-29. That way, Kim would have started Noesi in the season opener and would have a bullpen day for the second game. Yang and Dean would have each gotten a start in the three-game series against the Lions, and Noesi and Yang would both have been available during the next three-game set against the LG Twins in Seoul.

But ultimately, the manager decided to showcase his two best pitchers before home fans right out of the gate.

"I think a lot of fans have been expecting to see both Hector and Hyeon-jong in the first two games, and I couldn't let them down," Kim said with a smile.

Hector Noesi of the Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization throws a pitch against the Doosan Bears in their preseason game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on March 13, 2018. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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