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By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) — The opening game of his club’s playoff series against the Doosan Bears on Monday is so important for KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul that he is prepared to use one of his starting pitchers out of the bullpen to protect a late lead.
The Wiz will make their Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason debut Monday in Game 1 of the best-of-five second round at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. The 19-year-old rookie So Hyeong-jun will start for the Wiz, and Lee said the young right-hander will be asked to keep the Wiz in the game for five or six innings.
And if they have a lead of two or three runs, starter William Cuevas will be summoned from the pen.
“He could go for an inning. We’ll use him at the start of a new inning, without any runner on base,” Lee said in his pregame media availability. “The first game is crucial.”
Indeed, the team that wins the first game of the second round has gone on to take the series 26 out of 32 times, a success rate of over 81 percent.
Using Cuevas in the relief role for the first time all year, after he made 27 regular season starts, is still a gamble. The Venezuelan right-hander went 10-8 with a 4.10 ERA, including a 1-1 record and a 5.02 ERA in three starts against the Bears. If he doesn’t pitch in either of the first two games on Monday and Tuesday, he’d be a candidate to start Game 3, a potential elimination game, on Thursday.
“Our bullpen is considered our weak link, and so I figured Cuevas could help us there,” Lee said. “If we win the first game (with Cuevas pitching Monday), then we may be able to win the series in four games. Then Cuevas would be available to start in Game 4.”
When informed of Lee’s plan to possibly bring Cuevas out of the pen, Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyoung quipped, “Let him do whatever he wants. I’m not going to stop him.”
Kim added that in a postseason series like this, a potential Game 3 starter should always be ready to come in for Game 1. But the Bears plan to start their 20-game winner Raul Alcantara for Game 3, and Kim said using him in a relief role is not an option.
Kim said he wasn’t surprised that the Wiz will start So. The teenager had a 3-1 record and a 2.51 ERA in six games against the Bears during the regular season.
“It doesn’t matter who’s pitching in the series,” Kim said. “We have to get to their starters.”
Though the Wiz finished with a better regular season record than the Bears and won their season series 9-7, the Bears are seen as the favorites in this series because of their playoff experience. They’ve played in every Korean Series since 2015 and won three titles. The Wiz are in their first postseason, and 23 of their 30 players on the playoff roster have never been to the postseason until now.
Kim guarded against any premature talk of an easy series win for his team and said, “I don’t think KT’s lack of playoff experience will matter that much. They have some veterans there.”