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All-Star Game starter Ryu Hyun-jin leads way for S. Korean MLB contingent in 1st half

All Headlines 09:43 July 08, 2019

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 8 (Yonhap) -- In what has been a mixed bag of performance for South Korean players in the first half of the 2019 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, Los Angeles Dodgers' starter Ryu Hyun-jin stands alone at the top.

Ryu hasn't just been the best South Korean player so far in 2019. He has been among the top pitchers in all of baseball, with a 10-2 record and the MLB-best 1.73 ERA.

It has earned him a well-deserved starting nod for the All-Star Game in Cleveland on Tuesday (local time), and he will be the first South Korean pitcher to start the Midsummer Classic.

In this Getty Images file photo from July 4, 2019, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the San Diego Padres in the top of the third inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. (Yonhap)

Ryu is tied for the National League (NL) lead in wins and leads all pitchers in the senior circuit with 0.91 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). With 99 strikeouts against 10 walks across 109 innings, Ryu boasts the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors at 9.90 -- a number that took a hit after Ryu issued a season-high three walks against the San Diego Padres in his final start of the first half last Thursday.

During a memorable first half, Ryu put together a string of 32 consecutive scoreless innings and was named the NL Pitcher of the Month in May. If he maintains his form, Ryu could well become the first South Korean winner of the Cy Young Award. No pitcher from the country has even earned a vote for the top pitching honors.

Two other South Korean players in the NL, though, have had dismal seasons so far.

In this Associated Press file photo from July 5, 2019, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates rounds the third base after hitting a solo home run off Junior Guerra of the Milwaukee Brewers in the bottom of the ninth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. (Yonhap)

Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates ended the first half batting .170 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs in 52 games.

Kang is wasting his second chance in baseball after the Pirates extended him a lifeline despite his off-field troubles in South Korea.

This is Kang's first full season since his sophomore year in 2016. Because of legal problems stemming from a drunk driving accident in Seoul in December 2016, Kang missed the entire 2017 season and only played three games in 2018. His four-year contract with the Pirates expired last year, but the team gave him another shot with a one-year deal worth up to US$5.5 million, including performance bonuses.

Kang led the majors with seven home runs in 16 games in spring training, but he hasn't come close to matching that production in the regular season.

In this Associated Press file photo from May 29, 2019, Oh Seung-hwan of the Colorado Rockies pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Coors Field in Denver. (Yonhap)

Colorado Rockies' reliever Oh Seung-hwan has also had a forgettable season, with a 3-1 mark and a 9.33 ERA in 18 1/3 innings across 21 appearances. Oh has been on the injured list (IL) since June 10 with left abdominal strain.

Oh, who turns 37 next week, is in the final year of his contract with the Rockies and this could well be his last season in the majors. When he arrived home last October for the offseason, Oh told reporters that he wanted to pitch in South Korea again because he was physically and mentally drained from pitching overseas. The right-hander has been pitching away from home -- first in Japan and then in the majors -- since 2014, after spending the first nine years of his pro career with the Samsung Lions in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Over in the American League (AL), Texas Rangers' Choo Shin-soo is still producing solid numbers in his age-37 season.

Choo, who reached career home run No. 200 in June, ended the first half at .288/.384/.495 with 13 homers, 36 RBIs and 40 walks in 84 games, right along his career average in the triple slash line and on pace for his third consecutive 20-homer season and his seventh overall.

He was an All-Star for the first time last year, when he enjoyed a 52-game on-base streak and was among the AL leaders in on-base percentage and walks at the break.

Choo's numbers aren't quite as gaudy this year but he has been a rock at the top of the Rangers' order as the club remains within striking distance of the second wild card spot.

In this Getty Images file photo from July 4, 2019, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers hits a double against the Los Angeles Angels in the bottom of the fourth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. (Yonhap)

Tampa Bay Rays' first baseman Choi Ji-man was enjoying a career year before landing on the IL last Wednesday with a left ankle sprain.

The 28-year-old was batting .266/.351/.423 in 70 games with nine home runs and 33 RBIs. He has already established career highs in RBIs, games played, runs scored (28), hits (64), total bases (102) and walks (30). And he's one shy of matching his single-season best in home runs.

Choi, who joined the Rays in a midseason trade from the Milwaukee Brewers last summer, has been batting consistently in the middle of the lineup. He has logged more plate appearances (180) in the No. 3 spot than any other place in the Rays' order, and has also had 40 plate appearances as No. 5 hitter and 24 more as cleanup.

In this Getty Images file photo from June 26, 2019, Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the second base in the top of the fourth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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