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S. Korean pre-WBC scrimmage canceled by severe winds

Feb. 23, 2023 - 09:28 By Yonhap
The home plate and the mound at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Arizona, on Wednesday, are covered with a tarp before a scrimmage between South Korea and the KT Wiz ahead of the World Baseball Classic. (Yonhap)

TUCSON -- South Korea's third scrimmage ahead of the World Baseball Classic was canceled Wednesday due to severe winds in Arizona.

The national team was set to face the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson. However, on the heels of a rainy day, the wind was blowing at a maximum 31 kph at 11 a.m., two hours before the scheduled first pitch. Per forecast, the wind was expected to hit the area at 27 kph, and officials from both sides decided to scrap the game as a precautionary measure.

The two teams will instead play back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday at the same venue.

South Korea previously defeated two other KBO teams in scrimmages, beating the NC Dinos 8-2 last Thursday and then the Kia Tigers 12-6 on Sunday.

Despite the disruption to the schedule, South Korea will stick to the same pitching rotation for the rest of training camp.

Sidearm pitcher Ko Young-pyo and left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun had been in line to toss two innings apiece against the Wiz on Wednesday, and they will do just that Thursday.

They will be followed by the same quintet of pitchers that had been tabbed for one inning each: Yang Hyeon-jong, Lee Yong-chan, Kim Won-jung, Koo Chang-mo and Go Woo-suk.

Of this group, Lee Yong-chan, closer for the Dinos, will be asked to pitch again Friday. He will be the only reliever to throw on back-to-back days this week.

Per pitch count rules at the WBC, a pitcher who tosses at least 30 pitches must take at least one day off. The mandatory break is two days for pitchers after throwing 50 or more pitches. No pitcher will be allowed to pitch more than two consecutive days.

With Wednesday's game scrapped, South Korean batters hit off the machine in the indoor cage.

Quality control coach Shim Jae-hak had the batters move closer to the mound to take their swings -- by 3 meters at first and then by another 3 meters -- to help them get their timing down against fastballs.

"When they're that close to the machine, those pitches will feel like they are coming at about 100 mph," Shim said. "This is to prepare them against fastballs they'll be facing at the WBC."

Shim, the resident data guru on the coaching staff, said he has been pleased with the quality of contact for his batters.

In the first scrimmage, a seven-inning game against the Dinos, South Korea produced 13 "barrels." It's a designation for batted balls where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. In simpler terms, think of hard-hit balls that end up being home runs or other forms of hits.

In a nine-inning scrimmage against the Tigers, South Korea recorded 20 barrels.

"That's a lot of barrels so far, and I feel the hitters are at about 80 percent ready for games," Shim said. "The rest of training camp will be about filling that remaining 20 percent as effectively as we can."

The national team is scheduled back in Seoul on March 1. It will train the next day at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul and play a scrimmage against the SSG Landers of the KBO on March 3 at the same stadium.

On March 4, South Korea will travel to Osaka, where it will play two official pre-WBC exhibition games against Japanese clubs: the Orix Buffaloes on March 6 and the Hanshin Tigers the following day.

South Korea will then open its WBC against Australia on March 9 at Tokyo Dome.

The only two major leaguers on the national team, Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres and Tommy Edman of the St. Louis Cardinals, are not at the Tucson camp at the moment due to their club commitments. They are scheduled to travel to South Korea on March 1 to join the national team.

According to the KBO, Edman is set to land around 6 a.m. that day, with Kim to follow about 12 hours later.

However, they are not eligible for the March 3 scrimmage at Gocheok because it is not an official exhibition game run by the WBC.

KBO officials said if the two have a strong desire to play in that game and have permission from the Padres and the Cardinals, then they can find their ways onto the field on March 3.

If not, the double play duo will have to wait until March 6 to take the field together for the first time.

Kim was a National League Gold Glove finalist at shortstop last year, and Edman won the 2021 Gold Glove at second base. (Yonhap)