Orioles notebook: Hyun Soo Kim goes from tumultuous start to postseason roster in first year

A season that began with such difficulty for Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim landed him in the playoffs in his first year in the major leagues, starting in left field and batting second in Tuesday's American League wild-card game.

Half a world away in Kim's native South Korea, fans tuned in to watch at 9 a.m.


The Orioles might have Kim to thank for being in the postseason. Last Wednesday, Kim's ninth-inning, pinch-hit two-run homer sent the Orioles to a humongous 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays — a victory they'd need to clinch a playoff berth. The win propelled the Orioles to series wins in Toronto and New York to end the season, sealing a trip to the postseason.

"I want to make sure I tell him he's on the playoff roster, and I can't assume that he knows that," manager Buck Showalter said. "He may think after not getting four hits yesterday we don't like him or something. You can't assume anything with that, and I think he appreciates that."

Kim's journey this season has been a remarkable one. He was supposed to be the team's starting left fielder on Opening Day, and he was the starter against right-handed starters by season's end, but so much happened in between. He struggled mightily in spring training, going hitless in his first 23 at-bats. The Orioles attempted to send him to the minors to start the season, but a clause in his contract allowed him to refuse the assignment.

"I think they all gave him some empathy about the challenges that he was facing coming over here for the first time," Showalter said. "I kept telling him, all the pressure that was on him, there are other Korean players over there that want him to do well so their path is easier. They're watching our games at 8:00 in the morning and living and dying on everything he does. I'm sure there's probably some headlines and story lines over there in Seoul that I'm probably glad I didn't read. You know, the old manager not playing him certain times."

By the end of the year, Kim emerged as the team's most patient hitter, something needed in an Orioles lineup full of free swingers. His .382 on-base percentage led the club, and even though he didn't see much time against left-handers down the stretch, Showalter valued him off the bench for moments like last Wednesday's.

"The fact that it was a long journey, I just had to realize there were a lot of struggles I've had to go though and finally I was able to overcome [those] and enjoy them with my teammates," Kim said through translator Danny Lee. "… I'm really happy and excited that I get to go to the playoffs in my first year with a team that was so supportive of me from the beginning. I expected this team to be playing in October. I knew this was going to be a great team this year, so I was expecting something more than the regular season."

Manfred resigned to letting MASN litigation play out: Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to reporters on a variety of topics before Tuesday's game. Among them, Manfred said he was "resigned" to allow the current litigation the the broadcast rights fees the Orioles-controlled Mid-Atlantic Sports Network should owe the Washington Nationals.

MASN is jointly owned by the Orioles and Nationals, with the Orioles holding a heavy majority controlling interest.

The case went to court two years ago when MASN and the Orioles challenged the decision of an MLB arbitration panel to award the Nationals $60 million per year in rights fees. MASN and the Orioles argued that the panel was not biased, and was influenced by league officials.

In July, the New York Supreme Court freed MASN from returning to the MLB arbitration panel to settle the dispute. Since then, MASN has been seeking a new arbitration hearing to be conducted by a panel with no connections to MLB.

"You know, I feel about it how I feel about litigation in general," Manfred said. "It's out of your hands is how I feel about it. You kind of think you know where it's headed, but fortunately, it's somebody else who is driving the boat. I guess I would say I am at this point resigned to the idea that the litigation process is going to have to play out a little further before anything positive can happen.

"I think it is a good example of why in general our rules prohibit litigation between clubs. Once you're into that court system, sometimes it's hard to find your way out."

Behind Showalter's roster: In a one-game winner-take-all playoff format, Showalter selected a lineup stacked with relievers and bench players that could help him manage the game throughout.

Among the players on the Orioles' 25-man wild-card roster was rookie first baseman-designated hitter Trey Mancini, who has played in just five major league games after joining the team in mid-September following Steve Pearce's season-ending elbow injury.


"Trey gives us, we think, a weapon off the bench against a left-handed pitcher," Showalter said. "You might have to make two moves to get the matchup you want. That's about it."

Mancini had all four of his starts come against left-handed pitchers, and went 4-for-10 with three homers against lefties during the regular season.

Showalter carried 10 pitchers, including starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Dylan Bundy, who will be available out of the bullpen. The Orioles had two lefty situational relievers in Donnie Hart and Brian Duensing. Duensing made just 14 appearances during the regular season, as he was on the disabled list for 11 weeks after elbow surgery. He didn't allow a hit or run over his last five outings of the regular season (4 2/3 innings).

"We felt like there might be something matchup-wise there, and we also feel like he can turn some switch-hitters around," Showalter said. "We also feel like he's been throwing the ball real well since he came off having the bone chips removed."

The most notable absence from the 25-man roster was reliever Vance Worley, who has provided the club with valuable length for most of the season.

"There's so many factors that go into it, and we as a coaching staff kind of look down at it, without paralyzing yourself through analysis," Showalter said. "I mean, there's no perfect [roster]. It's tough, though. I hate telling Worley that he's not — we wouldn't be here without the job that he's done, and it's one game."

Teams can reshuffle their rosters before the American League Division Series, but because this round is just one game, Showalter went with a roster that allowed him to utilize matchups.

Around the horn: In regards to whether this offseason would operate with rules of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement — including the existence of qualifying offers for free agency, which is a topic what is one of the players union's priorities — Manfred said he hoped a new agreement would be agreed upon before the free agency period starts shortly after the World Series. If qualifying offers remain, the Orioles would have to consider extending them to outfielder Mark Trumbo and catcher Matt Wieters. … Manfred said its unlikely MLB will pursue another exhibition game in Cuba next spring with the World Baseball Classic being played and the Cuban national team playing in it. The Orioles have long expressed an interest in returning to Cuba. … Manfred said that before expansion is considered, the new CBA must be completed and stadium problems in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Oakland must be resolved.



Recommended on Baltimore Sun