Hanwha Eagles starter Ryu Hyun-jin has struggled in practice matches for South Korea’s Olympic baseball team. / Korea Times File
By Kang Seung-woo
South Korea's national baseball team has wrapped up its training in Okinawa, Japan, for the final qualifying round of the Beijing Olympics.
But continuing pitching woes have manager Kim Kyung-moon uncertain who he will start in games against Taiwan and Japan scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
Korea's rotation, comprised of Park Chan-ho, Ryu Hyun-jin and Ryu Jae-kuk, has not lived up to expectations that were created when the team, eyeing a berth to the global sports festival for the first time in eight years, was initially made.
Park, who won 113 games as a pitcher in the U.S. Major Leagues, stepped onto the mound four times― three times as a reliever and once as a starter ― in exhibition games, and allowed four runs and eight hits in 11 1/3 innings.
The 34-year-old tossed eight-plus scoreless innings as a reliever, but was knocked around in his first start, where he yielded four runs over three innings, including two home runs.
And in Sunday's simulation pitching, he also had an uneasy performance, allowing three homers in a 97-pitch outing. The more innings he threw, the shakier his pitching became.
Hanwha Eagles lefty Ryu, who combined for 35 wins over two years in the Korean league, gave up seven runs, 10 hits and eight walks in nine innings to post a 7.00 ERA, much higher than the 2.58 he's had during his two-year career,
In his first outing, the 20-year-old, who swept both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) last season, tossed four scoreless innings. But the next time he pitched, he allowed seven runs in five innings.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Ryu has allowed nine runs in 11 innings with a 7.36 ERA in three games.
His lethargic exhibitions in early innings have made manager Kim afraid of going with Ryu, who was 1-2 in the big leagues last season.
``I am worried that pitchers are at a slow pace in returning to their form. I hope they will get better in Taiwan,'' Kim said.
``We will select a pitcher who has the best condition in Taiwan. As everybody is tired from the long pennant race, it is hard to get back to 100 percent,'' said pitching coach Sun Dong-yol.
The final round, also known as ``the Asian Baseball Championship,'' began Monday with Group B, which includes Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan.
Matches of Group A, where Korea, Japan and Taiwan are drawn, start Saturday. The top team of the competition will earn a trip to Beijing and the runner-up and third-place teams will play in an eight-country playoff next March for three qualifications.