TUCSON-- South Korean bats stayed hot and young pitchers put in a solid day's work, as the national team enjoyed its second straight scrimmage victory Sunday in the buildup to next month's World Baseball Classic.
South Korea pounded out 19 hits to defeat the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization 12-6 at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Arizona. Nine pitchers worked an inning apiece in this informal game, where pitchers were allowed to meet their pitch count target, regardless of the number of outs in their inning.
South Korea defeated another KBO club, NC Dinos, 8-2, last Thursday in Tucson.
In Tucson, South Korea is without its only two major leaguers on the 30-man squad, Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres and Tommy Edman of the St. Louis Cardinals, due to their club commitments. Without the two likely starting middle infielders, manager Lee Kang-chul has been giving their backups a chance to play.
Batting ninth, second baseman Kim Hye-seong came up a home run shy of a cycle, with a single, a double and a triple. First baseman Kang Baek-ho had his second straight multihit effort.
Center fielder Lee Jung-hoo, a major league hopeful who will be posted by the Kiwoom Heroes after this season, had an infield single and a sacrifice fly from the leadoff spot.
Dinos left-hander Koo Chang-mo got the start, followed by a mix of starters and relievers.
Two of the starters, Gwak Been and So Hyeong-jun, each retired all five batters they faced.
Sidearm reliever Jung Woo-young touched a team-high 149 kph (92.6 mph). A handful of pitchers who didn't get into action Sunday threw in the bullpen prior to the game.
Scouts from six major league teams, including the Chicago Cubs and the Padres, were in attendance. Padres general manager A.J. Preller also traveled from Phoenix to watch the game.
South Korea manager Lee Kang-chul said his pitchers still had a long ways to go but added he was willing to remain patient.
"Other than a couple of guys, pitchers aren't still at their best. But they've thrown in games for the first time here, so I am not too worried yet," Lee said. "I will wait for them to come around."
In an ideal world, Lee said he would have all of his 15 pitchers on the right track by South Korea's last scrimmage in Tucson, against the LG Twins on Feb. 26. They will set up the team nicely for more exhibition games in March, against the SSG Landers on March 3 in Seoul and then the Orix Buffaloes and the Hanshin Tigers on March 6 and 7, respectively, in Osaka.
"I don't expect all of them to be in top form by then, but at least seven or eight guys should reach that point," Lee added.
Lee said Gwak looked the sharpest on the staff Sunday, praising the right-hander's command of breaking pitches in particular.
At the plate, Park Byung-ho knocked in two runs with a single and a sacrifice fly as a designated hitter. He's expected to be the primary first baseman at the WBC, as he has made an impressive recovery from a late-season ankle injury.
"I don't think my ankle will be an issue. I've been working on defense at first base for a few weeks now," Park said. "I will be ready to take the field in the next game." (Yonhap)