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KBO club's new manager trying to lay groundwork for long-term success

By Yonhap

Published : May 12, 2023 - 20:05

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New Hanwha Eagles manager Choi Won-ho speaks at his introductory press conference at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, some 30 kilometers west of Seoul, before a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the SSG Landers on Friday. (Yonhap) New Hanwha Eagles manager Choi Won-ho speaks at his introductory press conference at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, some 30 kilometers west of Seoul, before a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the SSG Landers on Friday. (Yonhap)

INCHEON -- Taking over a franchise trying to get out of the abyss in South Korean baseball, new Hanwha Eagles manager Choi Won-ho said Friday he will look to lay the foundation for success for the longer term, if not this year.

In an abrupt announcement that caught many in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) by surprise Thursday night, Choi was named successor to Carlos Subero, who was sacked 31 games into the final season of his three-year contract. Choi, who had been the Eagles' minor league manager, immediately signed a three-year deal himself.

The Eagles had just beaten the Samsung Lions 4-0 before Subero's dismissal, for their fifth win in six games. They still remained well out of early contention, though, with a record of 11-19-1 (wins-losses-ties) for ninth place among 10 teams.

The Eagles had explained that they wanted to prioritize result over process and Subero, who had managed the Eagles to last place in his first two seasons here, was tinkering too much without establishing order.

At his introductory press conference Friday, Choi said he will try to assemble a lineup he will use more consistently and also bring more stability to the bullpen.

"I am not being asked to start winning games right away. But we want to start playing a winning brand of baseball from the get-go next year, and to do that, we have to have the right setup this year," Choi told reporters at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, west of Seoul, where the Eagles were to face the SSG Landers. "We need to draw a clear line between regulars and backups, and decide which relievers will take the mound when we have a lead."

This may have been a jab at Subero, who was criticized for putting relievers in different roles from game to game.

But Choi said he has found it easy to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of players thanks to Subero's broad use of players.

"I'd like to inherit all the good things he did," Choi said. "We had some positive changes as far as aggressive baserunning and managing pitchers' workload."

On the flip side, Choi said he will do away with indiscriminate infield shift.

"We have to fix the way we shift on hitters. Before, we went ahead with the shift without getting the buy-in from pitchers. From now on, we'll get the green light from them first," Choi said. "Pitchers have said they would limit shifts to left-handed sluggers. They'd rather not see shifts with a runner at third, with a double play in order or with a right-handed batter at the plate.

"So far, this team shifted for fielders, but not for pitchers," Choi continued. "The key of playing defense is to help pitchers make good pitches. Otherwise, we may distract them and it leads to poor execution on the mound."

Choi had worked as the Eagles' interim manager in the latter part of the 2020 season. He took the reins with the club mired in a 14-game losing streak, and he recalled how the management wanted some sweeping changes.

The vibe is different this time around, Choi said, adding that he will start out making minor tweaks.

Choi and his general manager Son Hyuk have been close friends. Choi was a groomsman at Son's wedding and their wives are cousins.

Choi said he and Son will keep their personal ties out of the ballpark.

"I've talked to him about the way I want to run the club. I don't want to be a dictator. I will listen to the opinions of experts in different parts," Choi said. "If I try to run the show by myself, then people will raise concerns about my relationship with him. So I will delegate responsibilities to different coaches and respect their opinions."

Choi said his message to the club was centered on teamwork.

"If everyone focuses on what he has to do and gives his best, then that creates good teamwork," the manager said. "If we have too many distracted people, it hurts the team. And we don't want players thinking negative thoughts and seeking excuses."

The new skipper said he will wait on slumping hitter Brian O'Grady to come around and will not insert him into the starting lineup right away after the American had spent time in the minor league.

O'Grady is batting only .127 with zero home runs and eight RBIs in 17 games.

"When he first came down to the minors, his balance at the plate was way off," Choi said. "He was called up while he was working to fix his issues with our minor league hitting coach. He has been hitting well in practice but that hasn't translated into games yet. He has a long way to go, but we don't have to force him into the lineup. I'll be talking to my hitting coach every day to determine when he will get into the lineup." (Yonhap)