TUCSON, 17 February (BelTA -Yonhap News). - Behind home runs by its two corner infielders, South Korea prevailed in its first exhibition game in Tucson, Arizona, in the buildup to next month's World Baseball Classic (WBC).
First baseman Kang Baek-ho and third baseman Choi Jeong each went deep, as South Korea defeated the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) 8-2 at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The first of five scrimmages scheduled for the national team was an abbreviated, seven-inning contest.
Managed by Lee Kang-chul, South Korea only had one day to work out before jumping into game action against the Dinos. Of the 30 players on the roster, the only two major leaguers, Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres and Tommy Edman of the St. Louis Cardinals, are missing, due to their club commitments.
Seven national team pitchers each worked an inning, with SSG Landers veteran Kim Kwang-hyun tossing a team-high 21 pitches. It was also the first live game in which KBO pitchers threw the official WBC ball, which is slicker and has lower seams than the one used in the South Korean league.
South Korea pounded out 14 hits, with eight of the nine batters in the starting lineup picking up at least one hit.
Lee Jung-hoo, the reigning KBO MVP for the Kiwoom Heroes and a shoo-in as the starting center fielder at the WBC, went 0-for-2 from the leadoff spot. His backup, Park Hae-min, went 2-for-3.
Manager Lee said afterward he was pleased with his team's effort.
"Even though it was our first game, we played well overall," Lee said. "Our pitchers still have some ways to go, but our hitters were better than I'd anticipated."
Lee said the home run by Kang, whom he also manages at the KT Wiz in the KBO, should be a confidence builder for the 23-year-old coming off an injury-plagued season.
"This home run should help Kang Baek-ho and also the team," Lee said. "I didn't think the ball was going to leave yard because the wind was blowing in. His timing was good."
The manager added his pitchers will need more time to be fully acclimated to the WBC ball.
"The pitchers said their two-seam fastballs break the way they intend them to, but their sliders tend to slip out of their hands too easily," Lee said. "Kim Kwang-hyun said his four-seamer moves like a cut fastball, and he struggled with his grip on the changeup."
KBO officials said scouts from nine major league clubs were in attendance, including the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lee Jung-hoo will be posted for interested big league teams following the 2023 KBO season.
South Korea will have an off day Friday before returning to the field Saturday.
The national team's next scrimmage will be Sunday against another KBO team, Kia Tigers. Manager Lee said it will be a full, nine-inning game.
"We will use pitchers who didn't take the mound in today's game," Lee said. "Depending on how they feel, some will throw as many as two innings."
South Korea is in Pool B at the WBC against Australia, Japan, the Czech Republic and China. The two best teams after round-robin play will advance to the quarterfinals. All first-round games and quarterfinals games for Pool B teams will be at Tokyo Dome.
Japan, world No. 1, is regarded as the favorite to win Pool B, leaving South Korea and Australia to battle for the second seed.