JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- Wednesday gave a lot of the Cardinals a chance to see new reliever Seung-hwan Oh showcase his arsenal in the flesh. Having done all of his work in Korea and Japan, nothing but a few scattered YouTube videos existed of Oh’s prolific career as a closer, meaning Wednesday’s live batting practice served as a first impression for many players.
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“It was very exciting. It’s been a couple months since I pitched against any hitters so very exciting for sure,” Oh said through his translator Eugene Koo. “At the same time, coaches told me to take it slow, so I am taking it slow. But I felt very good.”
The 33-year-old has a varied repertoire, made more diverse by varying pitch speed to increase or decrease movement. Greg Garcia, who figures to make the MLB roster as one of two utility infielders, was part of the two-man scout team who got to face Oh first. One of the first things he noticed was the Korean’s pitch movement.
“Nothing is straight. He threw a little cutter there, some two seamers, changeups, big curve ball. He takes speed off,” Garcia said, adding he felt like he saw what seemed to be a laundry list of pitches. “I think that’s what makes him effective is he has four or five pitches he can throw for strikes and you find yourself guessing in between and you’re not going to be able to square up the baseball.”
From a viewpoint behind the plate as Oh warmed up, it was clear hitters were in for a challenge. Fastballs sliced across the plate, lopping off hunks of the strike zone on either corner. Breaking pitches swooped toward the right-handed batter’s box before diving like a falcon down and away. He ran pitches inside on both edges of the strike zone and never left an offering over the middle.
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Making it tougher was the variance in his delivery. Sometimes his motion was smooth from start to finish. Other times, there was a pause at his balance point, just long enough to let a hitter’s conscious thought override instinct. He did his warm up and live work stone faced and emotionless, seemingly oblivious to the mass of people gathered to watch him throw.
“It was more about balancing today. Not focusing too much on how to place the ball or how I’m going to throw it. Listening to the catcher more or less. Just feeling comfortable,” he said. “Right now my goal isn’t to have hitters not hit any balls of me, just feeling comfortable.”
It has been two months since Oh faced live hitters, and while he may have had a simple focus for day one, his skill set shone through enough to impress his peers.
“He’s got a very good feel for all his pitches, which I think is kind of customary for the culture there,” said Mike Ohlman, one of the organization’s top catching prospects and Oh’s battery mate for the day. “The first thing that comes is the command, and he commands his fastball really well. He’s still working on his secondary pitches as an established big-leaguer being in his first year here, but in Korea he has an established track record so you know his stuff plays.”
And Oh knows there’s work to be done if he hopes to translate his historic overseas success to the MLB. Wednesday’s biggest note came from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who informed the him his hand gestures may give hitters a clue as to what’s coming.
“The culture has been great for helping me notice little details,” Oh said.
Another spring bonus for the reliever is access to established major league pitchers with expertise in the secondary pitches he hopes to refine. Wednesday, Oh compared notes on the curveball with Adam Wainwright, and the two swapped strategy and thoughts on grip.
“Everyone knows he has a great grip and great curveball. I was just asking questions and answering back if he has any questions,” Oh said through a smile.
Similar to the Cardinal ace, the Korean closer prides himself on control. As Ohlman, who has caught plenty of major-leaguers during his development describes it, success seems to follow the pattern of command first, movement second. The first was obvious to observers Wednesday.
“That’s what makes it tough. I think his deal is he’s got great command of all of his pitches,” Garcia said of Oh’s command. “It doesn’t matter if he goes in or out. Just the fact he can throw five different pitches for strikes whenever he wants is going to make him effective.”
As for the movement, Ohlman certainly seemed sold.
“There’s definitely a lot of deception with the movement and the timing of his windup, his stretch, that can throw guys off,” he said. “He can take a little more time in the windup, but all of his pitches are average or above average at that, so I was impressed.”
After his time on the mound, Oh continued to impress, handling a small cadre of media members with an affable smile and thoughtful answers. When a few attempted to say ‘thank you’ in Korean (a much more difficult task than one might think), he told his translator that reporters shouldn’t be learning Korean, because then his English will never get better.
He seems at ease in a clubhouse full of players he can’t naturally communicate with. Wednesday he warmed up by playing catch with Yadier Molina, and the two seemed to build a rapport without understand a single word of the other’s native tongue. Ohlman estimates Oh has already thrown to a handful of catchers in his time in camp, but said communication has never been a problem.
“We talked about signs, what he wanted to work on in his live session, and he accomplished that. That’s pretty much all you can ask for on the first day,” he said.
After his line to reporters, Oh turned to his locker with a laugh. Not a bad first impression.