By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- Foreign pitchers dominated the list of Opening Day starters in the 2018 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season announced Thursday.
The new season will begin Saturday with all 10 clubs taking the field, and nine of the clubs said they will start an import pitcher in the first game of the season.
The Kia Tigers, the 2017 champions, will go with 20-game winner Hector Noesi to begin their title defense, against the KT Wiz at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul. Noesi tied his teammate Yang Hyeon-jong for the league lead in victories in his second KBO season.
The Wiz will counter with left-hander Ryan Feierabend, who led the league with a 3.04 ERA on the last-place club.
In Incheon, 40 km west of Seoul, home team SK Wyverns will send Merrill Kelly, the reigning KBO strikeout king, to his second straight Opening Day. The Lotte Giants will have first-year KBO pitcher, Felix Doubront, on the mound.
Kelly, entering his fourth KBO season, 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, allowing just one run over nine innings with eight strikeouts.
At Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome, the home team Nexen Heroes will send Esmil Rogers against his former team, Hanwha Eagles, in the opener.
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 start first-year right-hander Keyvius Sampson.
For their season opener at home, Masan Stadium in Changwon, 400 km southeast of Seoul, the NC Dinos will start Wang Wei-Chung, the first Taiwanese player in KBO history.
Their opponents, the LG Twins, will have another KBO rookie, former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Tyler Wilson.
The Doosan Bears will host the Samsung Lions at Seoul's Jamsil Stadium with right-hander Josh Lindblom on the mound. The Lions are the only club with a South Korean starter, as right-hander Yun Sung-hwan gets his fourth Opening Day assignment and his first since 2014.
Both Lindblom and Yun were question marks. Lindblom had a 0-2 record and a 7.00 ERA in the preseason, having allowed 12 hits, including six doubles, in nine innings.
Yun took a batted ball to his right elbow during a preseason game last Saturday. Luckily, he didn't suffer any structural damage and was deemed good to go for the first regular season game.
Seven of the 10 starters had already been announced by the end of last week, with only the Twins, the Bears and the Lions undecided. Then earlier this week, the three remaining teams also settled on their Opening Day starters.
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.
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