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All-Star catcher says new team's rotation better than advertised

All Headlines 09:05 March 23, 2018

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- On paper, the Samsung Lions just may have the worst pitching staff in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

But their starting catcher, Kang Min-ho, doesn't want to hear any of that.

Let's look at some raw numbers, though. The Lions ranked dead last in the preseason with an ugly 7.69 ERA in six games, certainly not an encouraging sign after they also finished last in the 2017 regular season with a 5.88 ERA. They also finished tied with the NC Dinos for the worst preseason record, with one win and five losses.

But during an interview before the KBO's annual media day on Thursday, Kang bristled at the notion that the Lions will once again be at or near the bottom in pitching statistics this year. And he was speaking from his experience of having caught these pitchers this spring, his first with the Lions after 14 seasons with the Lotte Giants.

In this file photo from March 13, 2018, Kang Min-ho of the Samsung Lions takes a swing against the KT Wiz in a Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

"I think preseason games are just an extension of spring training (in February), and our pitchers aren't as bad as people may think," Kang said. "And as a team, we didn't play one game with all the top players in place. We've all heard talks that we're going to be bad this year, but we won't give up our fight."

In hopes of bolstering their rotation, the Lions replaced their two foreign starters from last season, Anthony Ranaudo and Zach Petrick, with Tim Adleman and Lisalverto Bonilla.

Both pitchers failed to make an impression in the early going. Adleman gave up four earned runs in five innings in one preseason start, while Bonilla was touched for seven runs in his five innings of work.

KBO teams are permitted a maximum two foreign pitchers each, and they usually rely on those hurlers to be the front-end starters. But with Adleman and Bonilla apparently not ready to assume that role, the Lions have named South Korean right-hander Yun Sung-hwan their Opening Day starter for Saturday. Across the league, Yun will be the only South Korean pitcher to take the mound on the first day of the season.

But Kang was adamant that both Adleman and Bonilla are better pitchers than their preseason numbers show.

"I know they struggled in the preseason but they've thrown quality pitches in bullpen sessions," Kang said. "And I think they'll be much different pitchers during the regular season."

Kang Min-ho of the Samsung Lions (L) chats with Seo Geon-chang of the Nexen Heroes during the Korea Baseball Organization media day in Seoul on March 22, 2018. (Yonhap)

One of the few bright spots for the Lions was the performance by the rookie right-hander Yang Chang-sub, who held opponents to a single run on five hits in nine preseason innings across two outings.

"Yang Chang-sub is going to be a tremendous pitcher," Kang gushed about the 18-year-old. "I expect big things out of him this year."

And the anguished fan base of the Lions will be expecting huge production from Kang as well. The Lions, who had been stingy in the open market in recent years, inked Kang to a four-year, 8 billion won (US$7.4 million) deal last November, bringing in one of the KBO's best offensive catchers over the past decade.

Last year, Kang batted .285 with 22 home runs, 22 doubles and 68 RBIs to lead all catchers in those categories. It was his third straight 20-homer season. Kang has reached double figures in long balls in each of the past eight years.

He's a career .277 hitter with 218 home runs and 778 RBIs in 1,495 games.

The 32-year-old will try to spark the offense for the once-proud franchise that has fallen on hard times. After winning four consecutive championships from 2011 to 2014 and finishing in second place in 2015, they were in ninth place -- second from the bottom -- in 2016 and 2017.

Kang admitted he does feel more pressure heading into this season than he had in previous years, but he's ready for challenges ahead.

"I worked so hard during spring training, but I realized during the preseason just how much more work I had to put in," Kang said. "I am nervous before the start of the season, but at the same time, I am itching to get it going."


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