By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will start MVP-winning left-hander Yang Hyeon-jong against Australia to open an Olympic baseball qualifying tournament at home on Wednesday.
South Korean manager Kim Kyung-moon made the announcement on Tuesday at a press conference on the eve of the Premier12, a World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) tournament that doubles as the qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
South Korea is paired in Group C with Australia, Canada and Cuba, and will take on Australia at 7 p.m. Wednesday to open the campaign.
All Group C games will be played at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul and all South Korean games will start at 7 p.m. Canada will be next for South Korea on Thursday, followed by Cuba on Friday.
Yang won the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season MVP honors for the Kia Tigers in 2017, when he was 20-6 with a 3.44 ERA. In 2019, the 31-year-old left-hander won the ERA crown with a 2.29 mark, while posting a 16-8 record.
Yang has also been excellent in international play, with a 1.99 ERA in eight career starts for South Korea.
The Tigers missed the KBO postseason and Yang was shut down after a start on Sept. 17. It gave him more time to recover from regular season grind and build his strength for the tournament than other candidates from postseason teams.
Manager Kim said as much, stating, "He ended his season early and he had a lot of time to prepare for this."
Yang pitched two shutout innings against Puerto Rico in the first of South Korea's two exhibition games last week at the dome.
Australian manager Dave Nilsson will counter with right-hander Tim Atherton, a 29-year-old who has reached as high as Triple-A in the Oakland Athletics system. He has been pitching in the Australian Baseball League since 2016, and he was a perfect 7-0 with a 2.87 for the Brisbane Bandits last season.
S. Korean IOC members hopeful DMZ meeting will offer breakthrough for sports cooperation
Defending champs in S. Korean baseball threaten to run away with pennant
2 S. Korean clubs eye trip to quarterfinals at AFC Champions League
S. Korea football coach willing to look past statistics when selecting players
Tough road ahead for Seoul in joint Olympic bid with N. Korea