Veteran left-handed pitcher Bong Jung-keun will miss the World Baseball Classic (WBC) next year because of shoulder problems, Korean national team officials said Thursday.
Bong, a 32-year-old closer for the LG Twins in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), will undergo up to four months of rehab on his left shoulder, according to Yang Sang-moon, the national team's bench coach.
Bong, who previously pitched for the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds in Major League Baseball (MLB), has represented South Korea at the first two editions of the WBC, in 2006 and 2009.
He had surgery in 2004 to insert two pins in his pitching shoulder and a recent checkup showed the pins had dislocated. Yang said the pitcher told him of the diagnosis earlier Thursday.
According to Yang, Bong said he could try to play at the WBC but that may force him to go through extended rehab that will affect his regular season play for the Twins.
"We were counting on Bong to play an important role at the upcoming WBC," Yang said. "Now, we're faced with some problems as far as operating our bullpen."
At the inaugural WBC in 2006, Bong pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in three games out of the bullpen.
He had his star turn at the 2009 tournament, where he made three starts against South Korea's archrival, Japan, and won two games, with a 0.51 ERA.
Bong's absence deals a blow to the South Korean pitching staff that will also likely be without Ryu Hyun-jin, who is in contract negotiations with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Scott Boras, Ryu's agent, has said the pitcher will not be available for the WBC as he tries to get ready for his first season in the majors. The March 2-19 tournament overlaps with major league clubs' spring training and preseason, and All-Star players from different countries have opted to sit out earlier WBC events and prepare for their big league seasons instead.
South Korea named its provisional 28-man roster on Nov. 12, which included both Bong and Ryu. The team has three other left-handers -- starters Kim Kwang-hyun and Jang Won-sam and reliever Park Hee-soo, all KBO players.
Yang said he and the rest of the coaching staff will have further discussions on the roster. South Korea was expected to unveil its final WBC roster on Nov. 30.
"With Ryu Hyun-jin, we had our 'Plan B' in mind because there was a possibility that, if he signs a major league contract, his team wouldn't allow him to play at the WBC," Yang said. "We weren't prepared for Bong's situation."
At the WBC, starters will be put on a pitch-count limit, designed to protect their arms, and it will magnify the importance of bullpens.
"Our thinking was that even if our starters struggled, we would still have a shot thanks to some of the KBO's best relief pitchers, including Bong," Yang said. "Without him now, we will have to go back to the drawing board." (Yonhap)