Big league closer joins national team for WBC, talks about biggest worry

Esther Kim, Feb. 28, 2017, 9:22 a.m.


SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- St. Louis Cardinals closer Oh Seung-hwan finally joined the national team ahead of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) on Tuesday, but it's not his form or opposing hitters that he's most concerned about.

Oh, who arrived from Florida on Monday, said jetlag is his biggest worry, with the start of the tournament under a week away.

"It usually takes me about 10 days to get fully adjusted," Oh told reporters at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, where South Korea was scheduled to face Australia in an exhibition game. "It'd be early morning now in the U.S. (in Eastern Standard Time). It's just something I'll have to overcome."

South Korea will host Israel, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei at the dome starting next Monday.

"I'll do everything I can to contribute to this team," Oh said. "The primary goal is obviously to put myself in game shape."

Oh, who had a 1.92 ERA and 19 saves as a big league rookie last year, will be South Korea's closer at the WBC. He's also the career leader in saves in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) with 277, all of them with the Samsung Lions, and has pitched in his share of big games.

Oh said it doesn't matter who will be closing games, "as long as our team wins."

Oh was roughed up in his lone spring training game for the Cardinals last week, giving up two home runs in an inning of work against the Miami Marlins. But Oh insisted he's feeling just fine.

St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Oh Seung-hwan, in his South Korean national team shirt, speaks to reporters at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I'll just regard it as a wake-up call ahead of the big tournament," said Oh, who allowed just five home runs in 79 2/3 innings in 2016.

Despite his credentials, Oh was a controversial national team selection. Oh was fined by a Korean court in January last year for illegal overseas gambling charges, and the KBO slapped him with a 72-game suspension, to take effect if he returns to the Korean league.

The national team manager Kim In-sik faced some backlash when he attempted to put Oh on the provisional roster, with the public holding athletes representing the country to high moral standards. But Kim went ahead and selected Oh for the final roster, saying the team clearly needs the right-hander.

Against this backdrop, Oh's apparent declining of media interviews when he landed at Incheon International Airport on Monday caused some stir. Oh explained on Tuesday there had been some misunderstanding.

Before leaving Florida, Oh said he was told there would be press at the Korean airport. He also said he took a different exit than the one he was supposed to, not because he wanted to shun the press, but because he wanted to avoid leaving with the South Korean athletes from the Sapporo Asian Winter Games, who had landed at about the same time as the pitcher.

Oh isn't scheduled to pitch right away on Tuesday, but will make an appearance in a practice game against the national police team on Saturday.

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