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Asia Series spurs interest in Korean ace closer Oh

Posted November. 30, 2011 04:34,   

한국어

The 13 pitches Daegu Samsung Lions pitcher Oh Seung-hwan threw in his team`s win over Taiwan`s Uni-President Lions in the Asia Series Sunday are creating a buzz among Japanese baseball players and fans.

Oh`s fastballs frustrated Uni-President batters in the 6-3 win. Ahead of the final between the Samsung Lions and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks Tuesday, Fukuoka`s key hitter Seiichi Uchikawa said, "I hope Oh doesn`t play in the final," apparently admitting the possibility that his team could lose if Oh takes the mound.

All eyes are on Oh because of his charismatic play. He took the mound in the ninth inning throwing a fastball of 152 kilometers (94 miles) per hour. More than 10,000 Uni-President fans fell silent over the reliever`s performance, which he gave up no hits or no runs over two innings and had two strikeouts.

With Softbank in the finals, Japanese fans are known to have wildly responded to the Samsung-Uni-President game. Internet portals in Japan including Yahoo! Japan were filled with praise for Oh.

The headlines included "Oh`s pitching was one of the most impressive since the first World Baseball Classic in 2006," "Who could ever hit this kind of ball," "Japan should scout Oh," "His pitching matches that of pro baseball leagues in the U.S. and Japan," and "Oh`s pitching form is unique in making it difficult for players to hit the ball."

With the best save record (47) this season in the Korean league, Oh is being compared to Kyuji Fujikawa, a Hanshin Tigers pitcher who was named the top reliever of Japan`s Central League.

Both pitchers are known for their rising four-seam fastball of 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour and also for their dynamic pitching form. Oh is famous for a double kick motion, or a momentary slowing motion before throwing the ball. Fujikawa drastically bends his body forward when pitching.

Oh must play two more seasons in Korea before filing for free agency. The Asia Series, however, is expected to fuel competition among Japanese teams to sign the ace reliever.

Sun Dong-yeol (Chunichi Dragons) and Lim Chang-yong (Tokyo Yakult Swallows) both saw success in Japan as closers, but experts say Oh has higher star quality.

Scouts also say, however, that Oh needs to upgrade his breaking ball to make it in Japan and outperform Fujikawa, who is a master of the breaking ball.



noel@donga.com