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Cuban hitter living up to billing in KBO

All Headlines 14:24 April 18, 2019

SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- Even if he never picks up another base hit, home run or RBI for the rest of the 2019 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, Doosan Bears' Jose Miguel Fernandez has already surpassed the combined output by the club's two foreign batters from last year.

In 2018, the Bears won the regular season title despite getting virtually nothing from their foreign hitters. First, it was Jimmy Paredes, who batted .138 (9-for-65) with one home run in 21 games. His replacement, Scott Van Slyke, hit just .128 (5-for-39) with a home run in 12 games.

In this file photo from April 11, 2019, Jose Miguel Fernandez of the Doosan Bears takes a swing against the Lotte Giants in the top of the third inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

The team signed Fernandez for this season, hoping he could offer more consistent production from the middle of their lineup.

And 21 games into the season, Fernandez has given the Bears exactly that.

He is leading the KBO with a .418 batting average and 13 multi-hit games. After going homerless in March, he has left yard three times in April.

He has 33 hits, three homers and 17 RBIs, already more than what Paredes and Van Slyke combined for in all three categories.

Just after spring training, Fernandez said he was confident in his ability to put the ball in play, and he was going to use the preseason to figure out KBO pitchers and make his adjustments.

Fernandez went just 3-for-18 in the preseason, but once the real season began, he became a different hitter.

Fernandez was 2-for-4 with three RBIs on Opening Day, and then had four consecutive two-hit games starting on March 29.

He hasn't slowed down this month and has had three hits in each of the past three games. In Wednesday's game against the SK Wyverns, Fernandez batted 3-for-4 with a home run and four runs scored.

Though Fernandez failed to go deep in March, Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyung said he wasn't worried because he knew the Cuban hitter had enough power to start driving the ball into the seats at some point.

In addition to his three homers, Fernandez has six doubles and is ranked second in the KBO with a .608 slugging percentage.

In this file photo from April 7, 2019, Jose Miguel Fernandez of the Doosan Bears rounds first base after hitting a solo home run against the NC Dinos in the bottom of the eighth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

NC Dinos' catcher Yang Eui-ji, a former All-Star for the Bears who left via free agency, is the leader in that category. Yang trails Fernandez in the batting title race at .371.

Losing Yang, widely considered the KBO's best two-way catcher, was expected to deal a major blow to the Bears' title aspirations both behind and at the plate. But the Bears are in first place at 14-7. Yang's former backup, Park Sei-hyeok, has done an admirable job calling the game for the KBO's second-best pitching staff by ERA. And in the lineup, Fernandez is living up to his billing.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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