Tue, Mar 03, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Yeh betting on new blood in World Baseball Classic

By Luke Sabatier  /  CNA

Taiwan’s national baseball team head coach Yeh Chih-shien is pictured in Taichung City last Thursday.

PHOTO: CHAN CHAO-YANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Before Taiwan’s national baseball team headed to Japan on Friday for the World Baseball Classic (WBC), manager Yeh Chih-shien said he had come up with a strategy that will make his inexperienced squad competitive against powerhouses Japan and South Korea.

Not surprisingly, he refused to divulge it, but unless it somehow involves the slingshot David used to kill Goliath, Yeh will be hard-pressed to find a way to get his team past its major Asian rivals.

Taiwan is fielding a team of nine US minor leaguers, 12 mostly mid-level players from Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), five amateurs and two players looking for work in the CPBL in a four-team pool with the likes of established US major leaguers Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan and South Korea’s Choo Shin-soo.

POOR SHOWING

Yeh’s hodgepodge team did nothing to ease the skepticism of fans still psychologically scarred from Taiwan’s Olympic defeat to China when the national squad performed poorly in two of three exhibition games against CPBL teams this past week.

After defeating the Brother Elephants 6-1, the national team fell 7-5 to a weakened Uni-President Lions team and 9-4 to the Sinon Bulls in displays of porous defense, shoddy pitching and a lack of timely hitting.

Yeh knows plenty of work still has to be done.

“Right now, the team’s biggest problems are the consistency of the pitching and defense. In the next few days, we’ll strengthen training in these areas,” Yeh said.

New York Yankees starter Wang Chien-ming, who was not given permission by the Yankees to take part in the WBC because he is recovering from an injury, knows what the young team will be up against.

“It will be a little difficult for Taiwan’s players to play in the WBC because they are all new players, since many players competing overseas haven’t been able to return to Asia,” Wang said.

Indeed, Yeh will have to make a virtue out of new blood.

MISSING

Aside from Wang, he will also be without reliever Kuo Hong-chih and infielder Hu Chin-lung of the Los Angeles Dodgers, infielder Chen Yung-chi, who is trying to catch on with the Oakland A’s, former Dodger Chen Chin-feng and a number of others who have stood out recently in international play.

Among them: three of the four players on Taiwan’s Olympic team with the best on-base percentage during the Games (outfielder Lo Kuo-hui, out with an injury, and infielders Lin Chih-sheng and Shih Chih-wei, kept out of the WBC by their CPBL team the La New Bears).

The CPBL’s Bears and Sinon Bulls were unwilling to release their star players for the event, fearing they might get injured or overexert themselves ahead of a new CPBL season.

Three pitchers who performed well at the Olympics — the CPBL’s top Taiwanese pitcher, Pan Wei-lun (injury) , Hsu Wen-hsiung (held back by the La New Bears) and Chen Wei-yin (held back by Japan’s Chunichi Dragons) — will also be absent.

So who’s left? Ni Fu-te, who signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers in the offseason, Cleveland Indians prospect Lee Chen-chang, Uni-President Lions starter Lin Yueh-bing and Chicago Cubs minor leaguer Chen Hung-wen are likely to be the hurlers Yeh relies on.

But in a tournament that will limit pitchers to 70 pitches — good for up to about five innings — in first round games, pitching depth will be critical. The collapse of the squad’s relievers in recent exhibition games has left a major question mark.

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