SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- The Kia Tigers will be tested over the next month or so in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) as they will be forced to play without their biggest offensive sparkplug.
The Tigers, the trendy preseason pick to win it all in 2013, have lost outfielder Kim Joo-chan for up to six weeks. Kim took a pitch to his left hand in a game against the Hanwha Eagles on Wednesday and X-rays revealed a broken wrist. The team said he is scheduled to undergo surgery later Thursday.
Kim remained in the game after taking the pitch, and even stole second and came around to score on a single by Lee Beom-ho. The news of the fractured wrist came as a shock to manager Sun Dong-yol, who could barely mutter a word even after the Tigers went on to pounce the Eagles 12-1.
Last November, the Tigers inked Kim to a four-year deal worth up to 5 billion won (US$4.5 million). They appeared to have overpaid for a 32-year-old with a career batting average of .279, but Kim quickly silenced critics by leading the KBO in preseason with eight runs scored and 12 hits.
Slotted in the No. 2 hole, Kim picked up right where he left off to start the regular season. Before he left Wednesday's game, Kim was batting 6-for-12 with the KBO-best five steals, four runs scored and seven RBI. Thanks in large part to Kim's quick start, the Tigers are leading the league with 35 runs scored and .293 average.
Kim has been exactly what the Tigers had hoped he would be at the top of the order, and his heroics have effectively masked a slow start by the leadoff man Lee Yong-kyu, who's gone only 2-for-15.
Kim's extended absence will force Sun to juggle his order. Fortunately for the manager, he has some viable options.
Shortstop Kim Sun-bin, batting .462 in the ninth hole, could move back to the second spot, where he had hit for most of last season.
Speedy outfielder Shin Jong-gil could get some regular playing time in Kim Joo-chan's stead. After replacing Kim in left field Wednesday, Shin went 4-for-5 with six RBI. He is 5-for-7 with nine total bases for the season.
The left-handed Shin may be platooned with the right-handed Kim Sang-hyun depending on pitching matchups. Kim won the league MVP in 2009 with 36 home runs, 127 RBI and .315 average, but injuries have derailed what was once a promising career.
Now at 32, Kim has been relegated to pinch-hitting duties. Kim Joo-chan's broken wrist may present new opportunities for Kim Sang-hyun to work his way back into the everyday lineup.
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