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Defending KBO champions Twins not fearing ex-MLB ace Ryu Hyun-jin in season opener

By Yonhap

Published : March 23, 2024 - 13:26

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LG Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb (Yonhap) LG Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb (Yonhap)

As they open their South Korean baseball title defense Saturday against former major league All-Star Ryu Hyun-jin, the LG Twins aren't backing away from the challenge.

Ryu, the 36-year-old left-hander back with the Hanwha Eagles after 11 years in Major League Baseball (MLB), could spell trouble for left-handed batters, thanks to his cutters and changeups painting the corners to keep them off balance. The Twins will still send seven left-handed batters against Ryu, with manager Youm Kyoung-youb feeling confident against the veteran pitcher.

"This is the best lineup we can put together," Youm said in his pregame media scrum at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. "We'll try to be aggressive from the start. We won't bunt in early innings. I think our hitters can absolutely get to Ryu."

Asked specifically how many runs he felt the Twins could score off Ryu, Youm smiled and said: "I don't know. I don't want to provoke the other team."

Ryu, the 2019 MLB ERA leader, has built his career on excellent command of all of his pitches. He won't blow away hitters with fastballs, like he once did in the KBO when he was still in his 20s, but he can induce plenty of ugly-looking swings and weak contact with his off-speed pitches.

Youm said the key to hitting against Ryu is to be selective.

"He has great command on both sides of the plate, and I think you'd have to pick one side to attack," Youm said. "If you're trying to hit his pitches on both corners, you're going to miss every time."

The Twins will counter with first-year American lefty Dietrich Enns, whose own cutter can be effective against right-handed hitters.

"Today's game is obviously big, but I think it's more important for him to keep making adjustments to the KBO and to establish himself as our No. 1 starter for the season," Youm said. "He throws a cutter that we feel is closer to a slider. It tunnels well with his fastball and induces a lot of swings and misses. If he can add a changeup to his arsenal, I think he will have enough weapons to be our No. 1 guy."

As part of their preseason, the Twins played the San Diego Padres in an exhibition game prior to the MLB Seoul Series on Monday. They lost to the MLB club 5-4, and Youm said it should help his team get ready for the new KBO season.

"I told the guys to treat it just like any other preseason game," Youm said. "But that game had the feel of an Opening Day game. Since our players have already had the taste of something similar, it will help them today."

Youm's Eagles counterpart, Choi Won-ho, said Ryu would be good for about 90 pitches in his regular-season debut.

"At most, he'll be around 90 pitches against his final batter of the game. But we'll see how the game plays out," Choi said. "Then we'll monitor how he recovers from this, and we'll go from there."

Choi said his right-heavy lineup should be able to get to Enns, especially three hitters in the middle of the lineup: An Chi-hong, Roh Si-hwan and Chae Eun-seong.

While Ryu was away in MLB from 2013 to 2023, the Eagles made the postseason only once. They are now considered a potential postseason contender, and Choi said his players should embrace heightened expectations.

"I think professional athletes have to live with pressure," Choi said. "There's no point in beating around the bush. Our rebuilding is over, and we're trying to contend."