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03/26/09 7:45 PM ET
Choo recovering from grueling Classic
Indians counting on right fielder to contribute power to offense
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With more than 13,000 miles of travel recently behind him, you could forgive Shin-Soo Choo for feeling a bit sleepy Thursday.
Choo had returned to the Indians' Player Development Complex a day earlier and been given the afternoon off after a morning workout.
It wasn't enough.
"I'm still tired," Choo said before Thursday's home game against the Angels, in which he went 0-for-3, reached on a pair of two-base errors and scored two runs.
The demands of the World Baseball Classic schedule had caught up with Choo, who represented his native South Korea in the tournament. The Korean team fell to Japan, 5-3, in the Classic final on Monday, with Choo going 1-for-4 with a solo homer.
"Everybody was sad," Choo said. "Japan's a good team. They had better pitching. They had four or five pitchers who could be starters."
Choo was the only Major Leaguer on the Korean roster, so his participation was under a bit of a microscope. When he experienced soreness in his left triceps, just above his surgically repaired elbow, during workouts in Hawaii, the Indians expressed concern and inquired about the possibility of having Choo withdrawn from the event. Eventually, the Tribe was assured Choo's injury was minor, and the team consented to him participating solely as a designated hitter for the first two rounds. The Indians gave Choo a thorough examination at their complex before the second round.
It wasn't until the semifinals and finals that Choo, who had one mandatory day off per round, manned right field. And the wear and tear of travel -- the Korean team trained in Hawaii before the first round in Japan, trained in Arizona before the second round in San Diego and played in the finals in Los Angeles -- took its toll on him.
So Choo has reported to the Indians' camp a little rusty, with just over a week remaining in the spring exhibition schedule.
"I missed a lot of Spring Training," he said.
What that means for his ability to catch up with his teammates will be seen over the course of the next week. Choo hopes his bat is up to speed after a slow start in the Classic. He was 1-for-10 entering the semifinals, but he had two homers and two walks in the last two games. Manager Eric Wedge said Choo, who is slated to be the Tribe's regular right fielder this season, will play in both right and left in the remaining Cactus games.
With lingering questions over what Travis Hafner will bring to the middle of the order after right shoulder surgery, the Indians could find themselves relying on Choo to lift them up as he did in the second half of last season. Choo, who missed the season's first two months following Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, hit .343 with 11 homers, 48 RBIs, 20 doubles, two triples, 50 runs scored and a 1.038 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) in 58 games in the second half.
While Choo's primary focus is getting ready for the regular season, he said he might be hearing from the Korean government shortly about a possible exemption from his military obligation. All able-bodied Korean men are required to serve two years in the military before the age of 30, so the clock is ticking for the 26-year-old Choo.
That being said, it is expected that if Choo does not receive an outright exemption, he would simply not return to his native land to avoid conscription. But Choo's preference is obviously to be relieved of the obligation altogether.
In 2006, the members of the South Korean Classic team were all given military exemptions after advancing to the semifinals of the tournament's inaugural run. No such exemption was or is expected this year, but manager In-sik Kim told Choo he has a chance at an exemption.
"We'll see in the next week to 10 days," Choo said. "There's a little bit of a chance. Not 100 percent."
Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said he did not know if that was a possibility. But Choo's obligation is being treated as a non-issue by the Tribe in the first place.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.