Ryu Hyun-jin’s first exhibition game…Kia’s novice manager was pleased

“We’re playing the best nine. It’s a good chance to hit first.”

The Kia Tigers were chosen to host Ryu Hyun-jin in his return to Korea after 12 years. “I have a chance to hit first,” said Lee Bum-ho, who welcomed the opportunity to face Ryu Hyun-jin.

The KIA Tigers, led by Lee Bum-ho, returned home from spring camps in Canberra, Australia (1st) and Okinawa, Japan (2nd) on the afternoon of the 6th through Incheon International Airport.

Classified as a top-three contender alongside the LG Twins and KT Wiz for the 2024 season, KIA suffered a major setback when manager Kim Jong-guk was fired on March 1, following a police investigation into alleged embezzlement.

The team began spring training with Jin Gap-yong as head coach and quickly began the process of hiring a new leader, naming hitting coach Lee Bum-ho as the 11th manager on Feb. 13. He was promoted from within to minimize disruption.

Lee quickly set the tone for the team and then traveled to Okinawa, Japan, for a total of five spring training games to improve the team’s practice.

Pitcher Park Jun-pyo and infielder Yoon Do-hyun were named the MVPs of the spring camp, while pitcher Hwang Dong-ha and infielder Lee Woo-sung were honored with the Exemplary Award.

Speaking at the arrival hall at Incheon International Airport, Lee said, “I think we finished the camp as well as I thought we would, without any injuries. The players have been in great shape, even in games. I was quite satisfied with the way they played and the way they wanted to play. We will prepare well for the exhibition games and have good results in the regular season,” said Lee, who concluded the camp.

“I’ve seen from the Australian camp that the young guys are challenging and working hard to achieve their goals. I saw the desire to do well. They approached training and games with a positive mindset. I think if they prepare well and perform well in the trials, the synergy between the starters and backups will definitely improve,” he said, referring to the rookie-backup pairing.

As for the Will Crowe-James Nail duo, which is considered one of the strongest in the league, Lee has high hopes for them. “They were fine against other teams. I think they prepared as well as they thought they would. We’ll have to see how they do on the Korean mound, but they have pretty good pitches. If we keep it up, I think we will be much better foreign players than last year.” “We need to prioritize injury management. If we can keep that in check, I think we will have a good regular season.”

When asked about the impact of Ryu Hyun-jin’s (Hanwha Eagles) return to Korea after 12 years, Lee said, “I think it’s a game changer for the KBO. Hanwha has enough power to move up to the upper mid-tier. I think many teams will be wary. We are too,” he explained.

However, Lee doesn’t have a specific game plan for Ryu. “It’s not just Hanwha in the regular season. I don’t pay much attention to it. I don’t know how the rotation will be. We have to figure it out as we play. We have to judge the whole team and play the game instead of being wary of one team,” he said.

After his return, Ryu is scheduled to pitch against 토토 Cheongbae on July 7, KIA in Daejeon on July 12, and Lotte in Sasik on July 17. Kia was chosen as the first opponent for Ryu’s exhibition game and comeback.

“I think it’s a good case,” Lee said, “Hanwha won’t put him in an exhibition game if they think he’s going to pitch against us in the first game of the regular season. That means we won’t face him early in the season. That’s pretty encouraging. We have a chance to hit him first.”

Even though it’s a test of strength, Lee plans to field his best nine for Kia in the 12th game. “If Ryu Hyun-jin starts, I think he’ll throw around 60 to 70 pitches. If our best nine goes out, it’s a chance to hit more than once,” Lee said, adding, “I think it would be good to hit at least once and go to the regular season. We’re going to put our best lineup out there.”

Kia’s first exhibition game will be an away game against NC at Changwon NC Park on April 9th. It will be the KBO League debut of ‘novice manager’ Lee Bum-ho.

Lee said, “I’m in a new position. Now I have to lead the team. My decisions can make good or bad things happen. I have a lot of responsibility,” Lee said, adding, “I will play the same way I always do. I’m not doing it alone, so I’m going to talk to the coaching staff and make sure we play well. I’m not going to worry too much about it and do what I think,” he said of his first season in charge.


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