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Pirates notebook: Another Korean Baseball Organization star on Pirates’ radar

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AFP/Getty Images
Byung-Ho Park (right) celebrates with his teammate Hyun-Soo Kim after hitting a home run during the semfinals against China during the 17th Asian Games on Sept. 27, 2014.

ST. LOUIS — The Pirates are looking for another Hero.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, the Pirates are among six major league teams that are scouting Nexen Heroes first baseman Byung-ho Park.

General manager Neal Huntington did not respond to a request for comment.

Park, 28, is a two-time MVP of the Korea Baseball Organization. Over eight-plus seasons, he has a .270 batting average and .909 OPS.

In 2011, Park joined Nexen and was a teammate of Pirates utility infielder Jung Ho Kang. The Pirates signed Kang to a four-year contract in January.

“It would be special to have Byung-ho Park as a teammate again,” Kang said Friday through translator H.K. Kim.

Park, who has led the KBO in home runs the past three years, also plays third base. He is eligible to be posted after the 2015 season, but would first need Nexen’s permission.

“His strength is his power,” Kang said. “He’s a good contact hitter. He’s got a good arm, too.”

In addition to first base, Park can play third base.

Yonhap reported the Pirates had a scout at Nexen’s game on Thursday. The Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians also have sent people to evaluate Park.

During Nexen’s spring training camp, which was held in Arizona, Park was in touch with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s. According to Yonhap, Park has signed on with Octagon, the same agency that represents Kang.

Since joining the Pirates, Kang has kept in touch with Park.

“We communicate a lot,” Kang said. “I told him to challenge himself and strive to get better.”

O’Dowd backs Bucs

Before this season began, former Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd picked the Pirates to win the NL Central.

“I don’t know if that’s me being biased towards Clint or looking at it objectively,” O’Dowd said with a chuckle.

In 2002, O’Dowd hired Clint Hurdle to manage the Rockies. He also fired Hurdle in May 2009, less than two years after the team streaked into the World Series.

Now an analyst for MLB Network, O’Dowd still believes Hurdle knows how to manage. Even though the Pirates finished April two games over .500, water O’Dowd expects the Pirates to be playoff contenders.

“Baseball is a game of skill and luck,” O’Dowd said “Early in the season, luck plays a much larger role than skill in a lot of cases. But, as the season goes on, skill takes over.

“The Pirates are a very skilled club. Their best player (Andrew McCutchen) didn’t have a good month of April. But this guy’s got a lifetime OPS of (.878), so the reality is he’s going to turn it around. If I were the Pirates, I’d be encouraged. They’re right in the thick of it, and some of their best players haven’t been as good as they can be yet.”

O’Dowd does see one potential pitfall in the bullpen.

“I think the one problem for the Pirates will be it’s hard creating another closer in the middle of the season,” O’Dowd said. “If you do find another closer, that creates another hole someplace else. A bullpen is like a chain-link fence that’s all connected. As soon as one chain breaks, it screws up the whole fence.”

Closer Mark Melancon lurched through April with a 5.23 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. He blew a two-run lead April 21 against the Chicago Cubs.

“Those are devastating, kick-in-the-gut type losses,” O’Dowd said. “Closers are like field goal kickers. They really need to come through for you when it means the most. It affects the psyche of the club when you lose games you should win. There’s a hangover affect.”

Morton’s plan changed

The Pirates changed their minds about Charlie Morton’s next outing as he recovers from offseason hip surgery. Instead of starting a rehab assignment with High-A Bradenton on Saturday, Morton will throw another simulated game in extended spring training. The right-hander’s pitch limit has been upped to 90 over seven innings.

“We wanted to stay in control of the environment and tempo,” Hurdle said. “We’ll give him one more extended opportunity to be focused on controlling what he can, as far as holding his back side and making pitches.”

Morton is scheduled to throw a bullpen next week at PNC Park and be re-evaluated by trainers and coaches.

Runs are money

For every run the Pirates score in the May 1-3 series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates will take $1 off the price of lower outfield box and outfield box seats for each game of the homestand May 5-10 against the Cincinnati Reds and Cardinals.

Discounted tickets will go on sale online and by phone 30 minutes after the end of Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. Tickets also will be on sale at PNC Park at 9 a.m. Monday.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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