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(News Focus) Baseball dynasty gets no luck with foreign players

2016/09/01 11:21

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- Another one has bitten the dust for the Samsung Lions, a South Korean baseball dynasty that has had zero luck with foreign player acquisitions.

Infielder Aarom Baldiris left the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club Wednesday to have surgery on his right ankle in the United States. The Venezuelan had appeared in just 44 of the Lions' 115 games through Tuesday, batting .266 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs.

The KBO teams can sign up to three foreign players, at least one of whom must be a position player, but the Lions have now lost all three players they'd signed before the start of the season, historic futility for a club that had won four straight Korean Series championships from 2011 to 2014 and the last five pennants.

Aarom Baldiris of the Samsung Lions hangs his head after a loss to the Hanwha Eagles in the Korea Baseball Organization game at Hanwha Life Insurance Eagles Park in Daejeon on July 10, 2016. (Yonhap) Aarom Baldiris of the Samsung Lions hangs his head after a loss to the Hanwha Eagles in the Korea Baseball Organization game at Hanwha Life Insurance Eagles Park in Daejeon on July 10, 2016. (Yonhap)

Before Baldiris, starters Collin Balester and Allen Webster were both released.

Balester went 0-3 with a 8.03 ERA in three starts when he was taken off the roster in May. Webster was 4-4 with a 5.70 ERA in 12 games when he went down with a calf injury that forced his departure in June.

After allowing 29 earned runs in 18 innings in his first four starts in May, Webster had settled down over his next three starts, holding the opponents to four earned runs in 19 innings.

With the three players not contributing much for the most part, the Lions are stuck in ninth place in the 10-team league. At 51-64-1 (wins-losses-ties), they're 4.5 games out of the last playoff spot.

The replacements for Balester and Webster haven't fared any better. Arnold Leon, who came in after Balester, pitched in only two games, with a 0-1 record and an 11.25 ERA. He actually went 57 days between his first and second starts, and has been dealing with shoulder tightness since July 23.

Yohan Flande, who replaced Webster, has gone 2-3 in seven starts with a 7.20 ERA.

The KBO teams can only make two roster changes involving foreign players, and the Lions have maxed out with Leon and Flande. Their offense will have to do without a foreign bat, though they've done just fine despite Baldiris' struggles, batting .293 as a team to rank second.

Teams here often go with two starting pitchers and one slugger from overseas. These starters usually occupy the top two spots in their respective rotations, while the hitters account for big chunks of the clubs' offensive production.

Yohan Flande of the Samsung Lions reacts to an RBI single against the SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Aug. 23, 2016. (Yonhap) Yohan Flande of the Samsung Lions reacts to an RBI single against the SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Aug. 23, 2016. (Yonhap)

It's no coincidence that the Doosan Bears, sitting pretty in first place by six games at 76-42-1, have received 31 victories from their two American pitchers, Dustin Nippert and Michael Bowden. Their one foreign hitter, Nick Evans, has put a slow start behind him and is mashing to the tune of 21 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .304/.391/.569 line in 94 games.

The NC Dinos, in second place, have 22 wins from Eric Hacker and Zach Stewart. Eric Thames, their first baseman and reigning KBO MVP, leads the league with 39 home runs and a .737 slugging percentage.

No club has had fewer wins by foreign pitchers than the Lions' six.

And this was an apt microcosm of how the season has gone for the Lions: hours after the club announced Baldiris' release, Flande was shelled for eight runs -- six earned -- on seven hits and five walks in 2 2/3 innings against the Nexen Heroes.

jeeho@yna.co.kr

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