Changes in offing for foreign players in KBO

SEOUL-- Just about halfway through the 2022 season, six foreign players have been replaced in the South Korean baseball league, with a few more likely to follow in the coming weeks, if not days.

Former major league left-hander Thomas Pannone will be the newest face to join the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) from overseas. The Kia Tigers announced Tuesday that they will bring in Pannone from the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox for US$300,000 for the rest of the year. Pannone will replace Ronnie Williams in the Tigers' rotation.

KBO clubs are each permitted a maximum two foreign pitchers, and the Tigers still have left-hander Sean Nolin, who is recovering from a calf injury, under contract.

The Tigers had been expected to make changes to their rotation for weeks. Nolin hit the sidelines in late May with a left calf injury, and the Tigers learned at the beginning of June that Nolin would be out for around four more weeks -- longer than initially anticipated. Nolin has only made eight starts.

Williams too had experienced some health issues and has been limited to 10 starts. Neither set the KBO on fire, with Nolin going 2-5 with a 3.53 ERA, and Williams pitching to a 5.89 ERA and a 3-3 record. It will not come as a shock if the Tigers also choose to part ways with Nolin.

The Tigers have been entrenched in fourth place for about a month and had a four-game lead over the KT Wiz prior to Tuesday's action. They clearly have playoff aspirations after missing out on the party the past three years, and they likely won't wait around too long for Nolin to return if they can find a viable replacement soon.

The Doosan Bears are also trying to find a new foreign pitcher. Manager Kim Tae-hyoung said Sunday that the team was ready to part ways with left-hander Ariel Miranda, the reigning league MVP, after a disastrous outing from the day before.

Miranda couldn't get out of the first inning against the Tigers. He faced nine batters and walked six of them while hitting another. He allowed four runs without giving up a hit and recorded just two outs. Miranda was dropped from the active roster Sunday, with an 8.22 ERA after three starts.

Miranda had missed about two months with shoulder problems, after experiencing similar issues late last year. Kim said Sunday he wasn't convinced Miranda would get better and the team had run out of patience with the Cuban pitcher.

It's a stunning fall for a pitcher who won the regular season MVP award last year after setting a single season strikeout record with 225.

Kevin Cron of the SSG Landers is another foreign player under fire. The slugging first baseman has shown some power with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 61 games but is batting just .229/.260/.437. He has struck out 61 times and drawn only eight walks in 246 plate appearances. Cron was demoted to the minor league earlier this month and has been usurped by rookie Jeon Ui-san at first base.

Jeon, 21, is batting .350/.400/.667 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 16 games -- all but one of which have come in starts while Cron was in the minors.

Cron was brought back up last Wednesday and started that evening but has since made three pinch-hit appearances behind Jeon.

Another Landers player, right-hander Ivan Nova, hasn't lived up to his billing as a 90-game winner in the big leagues. He is 3-4 with a 6.50 ERA in a dozen starts, along with 32 strikeouts against 25 walks in 63 2/3 innings.

The KT Wiz, defending Korean Series champions, were quick to pull the trigger on their postseason hero from a year ago. They released right-hander William Cuevas in May and replaced him with left-hander Wes Benjamin. Cuevas was the first foreign player to be cut in 2022.

Cuevas pitched the Wiz to the Korean Series by beating the Samsung Lions in the first-place tiebreaker game last October. Going on just two days' rest, Cuevas tossed seven shutout innings in a 1-0 win. Cuevas then started Game 1 of the Korean Series and threw 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Bears for a 4-2 win.

But an elbow injury knocked him out after only two starts this year, and in the "What have you done for me lately?" world, the Wiz quickly pivoted to Benjamin in a bid to defend their title.

The Wiz also replaced injured outfielder Henry Ramos with former big leaguer Anthony Alford on May 26.

Also on the position player front, the LG Twins cut bait on underperforming third baseman Rio Ruiz and signed Robel Garcia on June 5.

The last-place Hanwha Eagles released two injured pitchers, Nick Kingham and Ryan Carpenter, and brought in Felix Pena and Yefry Ramirez, earlier this month.

The Samsung Lions have been the only team to enjoy strong production from all three foreign players this year. Albert Suarez (2.31 ERA) and David Buchanan (2.42 ERA) have been excellent at the top of the rotation, as both rank among the top five in the league in ERA. Outfielder Jose Pirela is among the league leaders in all major offensive categories for the second straight year and has the second-highest on-base plus slugging percentage in the KBO at .963.

The Twins are the only other team with two foreign pitchers sporting an ERA under 3.00, thanks to Casey Kelly (2.71) and Adam Plutko (2.92).

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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