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7 out of 10 baseball clubs name Opening Day starters

All Headlines 10:41 March 19, 2018

SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- With the start of the regular season only days away, seven out of 10 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) clubs have already named their Opening Day starters.

Managers have traditionally announced their Opening Day starting pitchers during their annual media day, usually held a couple of days before the first day of the season. The 2018 regular season begins Saturday, and the media day is set for Thursday.

In this file photo taken March 13, 2018, Hector Noesi of the Kia Tigers throws a pitch against the Doosan Bears during the clubs' Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

But managers haven't wasted any time this spring, given the shortest preseason and the earliest start to a regular season in league history -- forced by a midseason break to accommodate the Asian Games. All front-end starters have put in a fairly substantial amount of work, some even making two starts, during the preseason, which will wrap up Wednesday.

The Kia Tigers, defending champions, were the first to settle on their Opening Day starter. In fact, manager Kim Ki-tai confirmed his first two starters of the regular season last Tuesday, before his first preseason game.

Hector Noesi, a 20-game winner last year, will open the season against the KT Wiz at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul. Noesi will be followed by Yang Hyeon-jong, reigning regular season MVP who also won 20 games in 2017.

The Wiz will counter with left-hander Ryan Feierabend, the 2017 ERA king.

In this file photo taken March 13, 2018, Felix Doubront of the Lotte Giants throws a pitch against the LG Twins during the clubs' Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Noesi and Feierabend are easy choices, as are Merrill Kelly for the SK Wyverns and Felix Doubront for the Lotte Giants, who will square off Saturday at the Wyverns' home, SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon, just west of Seoul.

Kelly led the KBO with 189 strikeouts last year while finishing third behind Noesi and Yang with 16 wins. He had a 1.80 ERA in two preseason starts. Doubront brings major league credentials to his first KBO season and has been excellent in two preseason starts. He allowed just one run over nine innings and struck out eight.

At Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome, the home team Nexen Heroes will send Esmil Rogers against his former team, Hanwha Eagles, to start the season.

Rogers pitched for the Eagles in parts of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He spent the last year in the U.S. minors before returning to the KBO with the Heroes.

The Eagles will counter with first-year right-hander Keyvius Sampson, who won his only preseason start Saturday.

For their season opener at home, Masan Stadium in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, the NC Dinos will start Wang Wei-Chung, the first Taiwanese player in the KBO history.

Their opponents, the LG Twins, haven't settled on their starter. It will be either Henry Sosa, a seven-year KBO veteran, or Tyler Wilson, who signed his first KBO contract during the offseason.

In this file photo taken March 13, 2018, Chang Won-jun of the Doosan Bears throws a pitch against the Kia Tigers during the clubs' Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Both have had a fine preseason. Sosa threw four shutout innings in his only preseason start last Saturday, while Wilson has held opponents to two runs in 10 innings over two starts.

There are questions marks for both the Doosan Bears and the Samsung Lions, which will clash at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Saturday.

The Bears acquired Josh Lindblom over the winter to replace departing ace Dustin Nippert, but Lindblom was shaky in the preseason, with a 0-2 record and a 7.00 ERA. He gave up seven runs in nine innings on 12 hits, including six doubles.

The Bears may opt to start South Korean left-hander Chang Won-jun, who posted a 2.57 ERA in his two preseason starts. A model of consistency, Chang was 14-9 with a 3.14 ERA last year, the eighth straight season in which he reached double figures in wins.

The Lions were leaning on right-hander Yun Sung-hwan as their Opening Day starter, but he took a batted ball to his right elbow during a preseason game last Saturday. He didn't suffer any structural damage but remains questionable to start Saturday.

The Lions have two new foreign pitchers in the mix as well: Tim Adleman and Lisalverto Bonilla. Adleman allowed four runs in five innings last Sunday, but Bonilla was even worse in his preseason start last Wednesday, when he was touched for seven runs in five innings on 10 hits, including two home runs.

But if the Bears stick to Lindblom and the Lions opt for one of their two imports Saturday, it will be the second straight Opening Day to feature 10 foreign starting pitchers.

KBO clubs are each permitted to carry up to two pitchers from outside South Korea, and the 2017 season marked the first time every Opening Day starter was a foreigner.

Tyler Wilson of the LG Twins throws a pitch against the Doosan Bears in the teams' Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on March 18, 2018. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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