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Baseball Analysis Home   Gary Garland / the japanese insider

February 23, 2002

We Have Baseball! Japanese Exhibition Season Opens

The Japanese pro baseball season got under way Saturday with a three game slate of exhibition matches (or, as the Japanese like to say, "open sen") that saw a come from behind victory from Hanshin, the Yokohama Bay Stars hammer 2002 Japan Series champion Yakult Swallows and Nippon Ham put on a power display to slay the Chunichi Dragons.

Let's start with the Hanshin Tigers-Seibu Lions face-off at Aki, Kochi Prefecture in front of a 5,000 strong crowd. Ming-cheh Hsu opened the game for Seibu and went three shutout innings, allowing just a third inning single during his time on the hill.

Righthander Shinji Taninaka, who spent the first four years of his career with Seibu, did well for the Tigers, surrendering four hits and two runs over the course of five innings while striking out five and walking two. Taninaka hit a patch of wildness in the third, when he hit Lions third sacker Hiromasa Tamano. Two outs later, shortstop Hiroaki Ueda singled. That was followed by a two run double from designated hitter Yusuke Kawada to put Seibu up 2-0. Taninaka then plunked first baseman Hiroyuki Ohshima before getting out of the inning.

Seibu added a run in the top of the ninth off of 23 year old righty Takehito Kanazawa to expand their advantage to 3-0. But then in the bottom of the final frame, Lions southpaw Kazuyuki Hoashi walked 15th year veteran pinch hitter Hiroshi Yagi. Tigers boss Senichi Hoshino then sent out Koji Hirashita to pinch run for Yagi. After Hoashi struck out right fielder Shinjiro Hiyama, he handed out a free pass to third baseman Shuta Tanaka. Hoashi then hit designated hitter Tomochika Tsuboi to load the bases. Shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto responded by rocketing a base hit that skidded by the glove of Lions leftfielder Hisashi Takayama to sweep the bags clean and tie the ballgame. Second baseman Makoto Imaoka came up next and banged a single to center to give his club the "sayonara" (walk off) victory.

After the contest concluded, Hoshino said he had mixed feelings about the win. While it was nice triumphing in the end, he wasn't very encouraged by his charges inability to mount much of an attack during the earlier part of the game, proving once again susceptible to the Tigers malady of recent years, not hitting with runners in scoring position.

Free agent signing Atsushi Kataoka was hitless in both his times up at the plate while another free agent acquisition, George Arias, singled in his two at bats. Lions centerfielder Tomoaki Satoh rapped two singles in three times up while Hanshin's Fujimoto paced the Tigers attack with a single to accompany the three bagger in four chances.

Over at Chatan, Okinawa, the Nippon Ham Fighters and Chunichi Dragons put on a power show for the 3,500 fans in attendance. There was a total of six homers between the two clubs, with Nippon Ham heading four of them downtown, all off of Dragons starter Akira Miyakoshi, in the Fighters 7-4 win.

Miyakoshi, a 24 year old righty, was lit up for a total of six runs on seven hits while striking out four and walking one in five innings and was saddled with the loss. Nippon Ham reliever Carlos Mirabal toiled for four innings and got done up for six Chunichi safeties, but permitted just one runner to cross the plate and was credited with the victory.

Former Expos and Reds pitcher Pat Fluhry made his Japan debut and pitched a hitless inning, fanning two and walking one for Nippon Ham. The Fighters also had another newbie, outfielder D.T. Cromer, another ex-Red, in the lineup and he finished 0-2. Sherman Obando, in his fourth Japanese campaign, had a single in two at bats in the DH role.

For the Dragons, ex-Cub and Pirate Scott Bullet started in the outfield in his initial Japan game and whiffed twice in three futile trips up.

Now it's on to Ginowan, which is in Okinawa, too. and the contest featuring the Swallows and the Bay Stars. The Stars gave the ball to Hiroshi Yamada, a 28 year old righthander in his fifth season, and he threw well, scattering three hits while walking none and striking out one in three innings.

Meanwhile, Yakult starter Hirotsugu Maeda, who went 7-10 with a 3.93 ERA in 2001, got bombarded from the get go. In the bottom of the first, Yokohama combined a walk, three singles and a bases loaded double to left center by speedy (yes, you read that right) catcher Ryoji Aikawa to seize a 4-0 lead. Then in the third, Yokohama went on the attack again, converting a double from first baseman Hiroo Ishii, a walk and two singles into another three runs, to open a seven run gap between them and Yakult. Maeda said after the game that he was leaving everything up and that's why he got creamed.

In the top of the fourth, against lefty Masao Morinaka, Swallows third baseman Akinori Iwamura went yard to the biggest part of the ballpark to close it to within 7-1. Over the succeeding two innings, the Swallows amassed a total of four hits and a walk to come within four of Chunichi, but in the seventh, Yokohama went to town on young righty Yuya Kamada, hammering him for three runs (two earned) on five hits in two innings to put the game away. Backup first baseman Hirobumi Watarai slugged a two run dong in the eighth for Yakult off of righthander Kazushi Hosomi, but it was too little too late and Yokohama cakewalked by an 11-5 margin.

Mike Gulan, an ex-Marlin, struck out twice in both of his at bats in his first Japanese game for Chunichi.

Ishii, 37, who was let go by the Chiba Lotte Marines after last season, had three hits in three attempts along with two RBIs. The Bay Stars are counting on him to lend more punch to an inconsistent 2001 Stars lineup. 19 year old Seiichi Uchikawa, who reportedly has some sock, went 1-4 as the starting shortstop, spelling the fine veteran Takuro Ishii, who is injured. Ishii may be moved to third this season to make room for Uchikawa.

Tatsuhiko Kinjo, racked up two hits in five times at the dish. Kinjo, after becoming the first rookie to win a batting championship in Japanese history in 2000, dropped down to a .271 mark last year and they need big things from him to have any chance of overcoming the Swallows or the Yomiuri Giants. Kinjo's mate in the Stars outfield, Takanori Suzuki, the winner of two batting crowns, showed up this spring with ten pounds of added muscle and had hits in both of his chances at bat.

Mitsuru Tanaka, who is being compared to Ichiro since he not only can fly, being able to run 50 meters in 5.7 seconds, but bats left and throws laser beams with his right while wearing #51, singled, walked twice and scored a run in three appearances. Tanaka's speed is even more remarkable when one considers that he has had two knee surgeries. If Tanaka realizes his potential, Yokohama would not only have the fastest outfield in the all of Japanese baseball, but one that can run wild on the base paths. However, neither Suzuki, Kinjo or Tanaka have any pop, a big problem. Thus Tanaka will either be squeezed out by Mexican League refugee Boi Rodrigues when Rodrigues' knee gets better or Kinjo will move to third. However, Kinjo also had some defensive problems there last season and manager Masaaki Mori would prefer to keep him in the outfield. If Rodrigues bombs, though, Mori may have to hope that Yokohama can fashion the kind of just in time offense that Seattle had. Unfortunately, Yokohama, once you get past the excellent Daisuke Miura, has a lot of question marks arms-wise in a pitching oriented league. Certainly, the what's being called a minor calf strain suffered during a pitchers fielding drill by key reliever Atsushi Kizuka the other day hardly alleviates those doubts.

Speaking of the Dragons, they were hoping a 19 year old kid they drafted out of high school a couple of years ago named Atsushi Nakazato would be a future ace, but a couple of days ago Nakazato fell down a flight of stairs and dislocated his shoulder and sustained damage to the capsule and shoulder joint as well and there is speculation that he could be done. He will have surgery and it is expected that recovery will take three months, but the question is, then, will the arm regain enough strength to once again run 94mph heaters up to the plate like he did as a schoolboy?

Fortunately, it looks like the kid can hit a little bit, so if he's finished as a moundsman, he will reportedly be converted into a position player. But it's almost certain that Nakazato will not pitch for Chunichi this season.

Today on Baseball Guru's Most Wanted

Ex-A's, Orix Blue Wave and Doosan Bears first baseman Troy Neel is apparently being sought by the Texas Department of Public Safety (i.e., the police) for accumulating more than $220,000 in arrears of child support payments. There are other things that make Neel a lowdown slimebag and they are disclosed in an article in the Saturday edition of the Japan Times, which you have got to read to believe at:

Takeshi Aiko Found

The day after Japanese newspaper reports indicated that the wife of ex-Chunichi Dragons first baseman Takeshi Aiko had filed a missing persons report on him, Aiko made a phone call to relatives to tell them he was fine. However, there is still no explanation of what caused Aiko to just up and leave and not inform anyone of his whereabouts for three months.

From the "Foreigners Go Home!" Department

Former Padres prospect Buddy Carlyle and erstwhile Braves farmhands Trey Moore and Mark Valdez infuriated the Hanshin coaching staff with their alleged lack of focus in defensive drills this past week, with Carlyle being pulled aside by coach Minoru Kasai and berated for not showing the right stuff. "If you can't do any better than that then go back home!" Kasai was quoted by the press as telling the righthander.

Kasai, who was a sidearmer who pitched well against an MLB all star squad in 2000, retired after last season when injuries overtook him and joined the Tigers coaching staff. His airing out of Carlyle drew a big thumbs up from firebrand manager Senichi Hoshino.

Furthermore, the three angered Hanshin staff and fellow players when they ordered a pizza instead of eating with the rest of the players at Hanshin's dormitory complex. In fact, the Tigers are now mulling bringing back former Dodger Greg Hansell if the three don't shape up. Hansell was on the Hanshin pitching staff the last two seasons.

The Tigers say that they have made accommodations for the foreign players, bringing in former Central League MVP Tom O'Malley to work as the batting coach for Arias and ex-Ranger Tom Evans, but they at least expect that they will show a team-oriented approach.

Tigers May Hire a Female "Scout"

In the history of Japanese baseball, there has never been a female scout. I don't know if the same is true of MLB (though I suspect it is), but Hanshin, which has seen just two of its 1990's number one draft choices make it to the big club, is contemplating hiring a distaff scout not for talent evaluation purposes, but for a woman's alleged better people skills that will enable the club to cajole potential recruits to sign on the bottom line.

Of course, this could lead to charges that the team is using the scout to do more than just "talk" to a potential draftee, but we'll see how this shakes out. Would be interesting to ask Dodgers Assistant General Manager Kim Ng about it.

Beleaguered Yomiuri Staff Finally Gets Some Good News

It appears that the leg problems that torpedoed lefthander Kimiyasu Kudoh for almost the entire 2001 season are finally healed. He threw Friday and said he felt good. That is very bad news for the Yakult Swallows and Central League hitters.

Hasegawa Says He Wanted to Go to MLB Right Out of College

Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa is a smart guy and apparently a very calculating one. In an interview with the Asahi Shimbun last December, the talkative and jovial middle reliever revealed that since experiencing America on a trip with a university team, he had planned on crossing the Pacific to make his living here. Even before he signed his pro contract, he explained that he checked all the rules and the ins and outs to ensure that he could go when he finally decided to pull the trigger.

Hasegawa, who has a home in Newport Beach, California, likes the west coast for the predictability and warmth of the climate. His oldest son, Kohta, who is now five, has only spent three months of his life in Japan, and Hasegawa, who speaks pretty good English, says that his boy uses words he sometimes doesn't know.

Unlike his teammate Kazuhiro Sasaki, who took some real heavy shots at the Japanese baseball establishment as well as the attitudes of Japanese players in a Sankei Sports interview this winter, Hasegawa only says about his time in Japan that if he were still there he might be retired already. Sasaki said something similar in the Sankei talk. Clearly, for Japanese players who are more individualistic, the states seem to be the environment of choice.

Feeling that some sub par performances by him during the 1998 season cost the Angels a shot at the post season, he states that he was moved to tears when his Angels teammates told him that they didn't think they would have gotten as close as they did without him. He has no ambitions of ever being a starter again, saying that he enjoys the tension of coming on in situations when the result of a game hangs on every pitch.

In any event, Hasegawa came off as someone who just loves playing the game of baseball and he hopes he can play until he's 45, as Jesse Orosco is doing now, and then move into some baseball-related capacity when he finally decides to call it a career. At the very least, one would think that there would at least be an international scouting job open for him when he does.

Ishii Working on Changeup

According to the Japanese press, the Dodgers Kazuhisa Ishii has been working on a pitch to use when his forkball takes a leave of absence. Basically, he wants to use it to spot it on the outside corner to left handed hitters with some action that would make it sink while tailing in, kind of a variation on what I remember what Rudy May used to do. May used to turn his changeup over to give it a screwball-like action, one reason why Rudy was able to stick around for 16 years in the bigs.

Then there was an article from Sankei Sports indicating that Dodgers catcher Paul LoDuca is trying to learn some Japanese so that he can communicate better with both Nomo and Ishii. The article also makes an allusion to LoDuca taking some pages out of Yakult catcher Atsuya Furuta's book in handling the two, but it doesn't say just how LoDuca would do that. Maybe he has some game film of Furuta? Who knows. In any event, LoDuca is talking about going out to eat sushi and sashimi and the like with both Nomo and Ishii in order to build some kind of camaraderie and give him a feel for their personalities.

Furuta is a one time batting champ, multiple Gold Glove winner and two time MVP for the Swallows and is generally considered the best all around catcher to ever play in Japan. Last season, he basically toughed out a knee injury the team thought would sideline him for the last month of the season and the Japan Series, but he gutted it out and got through it.

Dodgers Sign Ex-Kintetsu Reliever Sano

For those of you who are wondering about recent Dodgers signee Shigeki Sano, he was a1990 third rounder out of college and was pretty rubber armed, having a couple of 90 inning seasons and over 200 appearances over his first five years. He had elbow surgery in 1997, and was out for a year and a half. He then went 3-8 with one save and a 5.47 ERA in 1999.

However, it appears that the wheels fell off in 2000, as he spent a good deal of time with Chunichi's Western League (a minor league) affiliate, leading the league in saves with 12. In June of that season, with the big club, he was hammered for four homers in ONE inning against the Yomiuri Giants at Nagoya Dome, tying a Japanese record. He was released by the Dragons at the end of the season after being in only 11 games for them and posting an 8.11 ERA. He tried out for Yokohama, but they weren't interested and he headed east to the U.S.

For his Japanese career, he appeared 351 times (10 starts, one shutout), finishing 41-31 with 27 saves and an ERA of 3.72 in 645.1 total innings. Averaged 5.77 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9. If my calculations are correct, the opposition hit .270 against him, which is a rather mediocre number. I can't find anything definite on his velocity or his pitch repertoire, though it looks like he has messed around with a forkball and did not completely master it. I wonder if his improved numbers in the Northern League are due to maybe actually now being able to throw that pitch. He has played with Nomo at Kintetsu, so this will be something of a reunion for him.

He really doesn't have the stuff to close, the most saves Sano ever had in a season being seven. For most of his career at Kintetsu, the closer was Motoyuki Akahori, who was third all time in saves until he got passed up by Yakult closer Shingo Takatsu, who may break Kazuhiro Sasaki's all time record this season (229).

In 2001, he played with Elmira of the Northern League. I don't have his compete stats for that, though he finished with an ERA in the high 2 range.

Really, the Dodgers being rather short in middle relief with the less than stellar Trombley and Mulholland, I think this is one of those "throw it against a wall and see if it sticks" things.

Korean Hurler Goes Up for Bid

Some of you already know that Doosan Bears righthander Jin Pil-jung (or in the western order, Pil-jung Jin) is being put up for bid. The L.A. Times article Saturday quoted a different ERA than what I've got, but here are his stats by season, though they are admittedly incomplete"

1995: G 36 IP 109.1 W 6 L 2 Sv 2 K 50 ERA 3.21

1996: G 32 IP 191 W 13 L 10 Sv 4 K 69 ERA 3.11

1997: G 26 IP 130.2 W 7 L 12 Sv 0 K 72 ERA 3.72

1998: G 61 IP 158.1 W 8 L 6 Sv 19 K 100 ERA 2.33

1999: G 73 IP 114 W 16 L 6 Sv 36 K 114 ERA 2.37

2000: G 59 IP 73 W 5 L 5 Sv 42 K 61 ERA 2.34

2001: G 51 IP 89.1 W 9 L 6 23 Sv K 88 ERA 3.22

Career: G 338 IP 776.1 W 64 l 47 Sv 126 K 554 ERA 3.26

Other factlets: Jin is 29, won't be 30 until October 26th. Stands at just a hair under 6'2" and weighs a reported 195 pounds. His 1999 total of 52 "save points" (that's saves + wins) is an Asian pro record. Played his entire career with the OB (later Doosan) Bears. If I'm not mistaken, he also owns the all time single season saves record in Korea, but I'm not sure about that.

I expect Jin to go cheap since the level of Korean pro ball is about AA, imho, though, make no mistake about it, the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) is sprinkled with players who can compete in MLB. Unfortunately, they are relatively few. After all, the country only has about 50 million people compared to Japan's 130 million or the 280 million in the U.S. When Samsung Lions slugger Lee Seung-yeop works out with the Cubs (which should be starting next week, iirc), a lot of MLB scouts are going to be gauging the quality of competition in the KBO by what kind of showing Lee puts in.

Time for a Rant

What is it with drug addicts and George Steinbrenner? Is he making the Yankees a halfway house for them or something? It's bad enough that he allowed Steve Howe, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry to play on his club after they were found to be abusing cocaine on several occasions, but now he's going to put Strawberry, a convicted wife beater who has fathered an illegitimate child in addition to the use of illegal substances, in the Yankees player development department? What's he going to teach them? The best way to snort a line or the most effective punch against a woman? Or as a convicted felon himself (conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions to the Nixon campaign), does George just want company?

I mean, why don't we just go all the way and have Steinbrenner make Howe the team's pitching coach, Willie Mays Aikens the hitting instructor, Tony Phillips the base running coach and put Keith Hernandez in the broadcast booth? That would allow the Yanks to widen their international appeal by being Peru's favorite team.


A big "good on ya" to Yomiuri Giants veteran infielder Masahiro Kawai (37) and his wife Hidemi, who welcomed their fifth child, a daughter, into the world Friday. The couple has three sons and another daughter. Both mother and daughter are doing fine.


I would like to express my regrets to Akiko Hara, wife of Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara, who lost her father to a cardiac arrest earlier this week. My best wishes go out to Ms. Hara and her family.

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