SEOUL– Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun will make his much-anticipated return to the South Korean league in a preseason game next week, his manager said Thursday.
SSG Landers’ skipper Kim Won-hyong added Kim, usually a starter, will come out of the bullpen and throw about 40 pitches in next Tuesday’s preseason game against the LG Twins at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, some 40 kilometers west of Seoul. As part of his buildup, Kim Kwang-hyun will throw his first live batting practice Saturday.
Kim Kwang-hyun signed a four-year deal worth 15.1 billion won (US$12.4 million) with the Landers on March 8, becoming the highest-paid player in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) history. Kim had pitched for the Landers franchise from 2007 to 2019, while they were called the SK Wyverns under a different ownership, and then spent the following two seasons with the Cardinals before coming home as a free agent.
Because Kim signed in early March, more than a month into spring training for KBO clubs, the 33-year-old left-hander is a bit behind schedule. As a free agent without a team during Major League Baseball’s work stoppage that lasted all winter, Kim mostly trained on his own in South Korea without a formal structure.
But Kim Won-hyong said the veteran pitcher, who is currently training with the Landers’ minor league team, should get back on track in no time.
“Obviously, there are differences between training alone and preparing for a season within a team setting. But Kwang-hyun built himself up really well during the offseason,” the manager told reporters at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul before facing the home team, Kiwoom Heroes, in preseason action. “And we’re getting reports from the minor league camp that he has been looking great and things are moving along according to the plan.
“He is a veteran, and I am pretty sure he knows what he is supposed to do,” Kim Won-hyong continued. “I don’t foresee any problem with his preparation.”
The preseason will wrap up on March 29, and the regular season will start on April 2. During his re-introductory press conference Wednesday, Kim Kwang-hyun ruled himself out of the first two series of the regular season — two games against the NC Dinos, followed by three games against the KT Wiz.
His manager, though, wouldn’t yet set a timetable for the star pitcher’s regular season debut.
“We will have to monitor his physical condition after next week’s outing, but we haven’t set a schedule for him beyond next Tuesday,” Kim Won-hyong said. “He will need to gradually ramp up his workload.”
Also in Thursday’s game, Ivan Nova, a former New York Yankees ace and a prize offseason signing for the Landers, will make his preseason debut. Nova, Kim and another former major league pitcher, Wilmer Font, should give the Landers one of the most feared starting rotations in the KBO this year.
Kim Won-hyong, a former star pitcher himself, said he would like Nova to focus on his own preparation and not worry so much about the opposing lineup, which, on Thursday, included former National League All-Star Yasiel Puig.
“My message is the same for first-year foreign pitchers or rookies. You have to make the hitters adjust to you, not the other way around,” the skipper said. “If you have great stuff and you can command your pitches, then you have to focus on making your pitches and forcing the hitters to figure things out.”
One of Kim’s hitters, Kevin Cron, is trying to figure it out at the plate. The new foreign hitter for the Landers has gone 0-for-9 in the preseason, after picking up three hits in unofficial scrimmages.
“He’s still making his adjustments, and we’ve told him to take it easy and do things at his own pace,” the manager said. “The last thing we want him to do is to rush things at the plate. I almost think this is a blessing in disguise. His early struggles have given us the opportunity to sit down with him to go over things.
“If he had been getting a lot of hits this time of year, then maybe he would have been too excited and would have let his guard down a bit,” Kim added. “And then he would have struggled against better pitching once the regular season started.”
Kim put Cron in the cleanup spot for Thursday’s game.
Source: Yonhap News Agency