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Baseball Analysis Home   Gary Garland / the japanese insider

February 25, 2002

Giants Trample Buffaloes

In the pre-season of 2001, the Kintetsu Buffaloes pitching staff looked like they were

throwing batting practice for opposition hitters, as they gave up runs at a torrential pace. In fact, they had a team ERA before the opening bell rang of almost 9.00. Fortunately for them, once the games started counting, while the team's staff still finished last in the Pacific League in ERA with a horrendous 4.98 (although the Texas Rangers wished they were that good last season), it was just good enough so that Nakamura, Rhodes, and company could overpower the competition.

Manager Masataka Nishida had to make an average of between 5 and 6 pitching changes a game last season to try to coax some outs out of his moundsmen. For example, reliever Akira Okamoto was ushered into 61 games and got through 102.1 innings. That's called flogging a tired horse. Akinori Otsuka, Kintetsu's closer, had 26 saves, but at the expense of a 4.02 ERA.

So Sunday, the Buffaloes have to face perhaps the only Central League outfit that can stand toe to toe with them offensively in the Yomiuri Giants and the result wasn't pretty. At Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki, Miyazaki Prefecture, 32,000 (that's not a misprint; the Giants have drawn that many just for a WORKOUT) onlookers watched the Tokyo team dismantle its western Japan opponent 13-0.

While Korean import Chung Min-tae, who has added a changeup to his bag of tricks, was on his way to five shutout innings, holding the meaty Kintetsu batting order to five hits and walking none in probably his best outing ever in Japan, Kintetsu starter Yasunari Takagi, 19, managed to get through the first unscathed only then to watch his offerings get walloped all over the yard in the bottom of the second. Giants first basemen Kazuhiro Kiyohara lead off with a single to center. Third baseman Akira Etoh then wacked a base hit to right. Catcher Shinnosuke Abe then chased Kiyohara home with a two bagger down the rightfield line. That was followed by a two run single from shortstop Daisuke Motoki and a safety from DH Shinsuke Yamada. After leftfielder Takayuki Shimizu rolled into a 6-4-3 double play, small but strong second sacker Tomohisa Nishi slammed a double down the right field line. When it was all said and done, the Giants batted around and were up 5-0 before the carnage ended.

No rest for the wicked and as a Swallows fan Yomiuri is indeed that to me, but anyway Takagi came out for the third and got lambasted again, a six run surge capped off by a two run rocket into the right centerfield bleachers from centerfielder Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui on a 2-0 curve ball that was down but over the heart of the plate. Altogether, Takagi was tagged for 11 runs, eight of them earned, in three innings on 14 hits, 83 pitches, striking out two and walking none. Takagi got into a mere five games with the big club in 2001, and finished with a record of 1-0 with a 14.21 ERA in 6.1 total innings. He is clearly not ready and it is probably best if Takagi spends the next couple of campaigns solely with the minor league affiliate. Yet, due to the paucity of viable pitching for the Fujiidera, Osaka-based Kintetsu nine, Nishida may have no choice but to try to rush youngsters up to stem the bleeding.

In the fifth, Yomiuri right fielder Yoshinobu Takahashi went over the wall with a man on to complete the day's bombardment.

Hector Almonte, who got into a confrontation with Yomiuri coaches over the training regimen last week, came on to pitch the ninth and gave up a single and then unleashed a wild pitch before closing things out. It seems that the Giants are going to give Almonte a second chance after his snit. It will be interesting to see if he will pull something similar later on.

Evans Three Run Blast Beats Matsuzaka, Seibu

This time last season, Seibu fireballer Daisuke Matsuzaka struck out the first five Hanshin Tigers batters he saw in a flawless two inning stint. This spring, Matsuzaka is working on adding a slow curve ball to his repertoire and he obviously needs more work on it, as former Detroit and Texas infielder Tom Evans launched a hanger 425 feet over the centerfield fence at Haruno, Kochi Prefecture in front of 15,000 fans to get Hanshin a first inning 3-0 cushion on the way to a 6-3 victory.

Masashi Date, a 26 year old second year righthander who was 4-3 with a 3.75 ERA in middle relief in 2001, started and threw four innings of one run, two hit ball, striking out two and walking one to get the win. The lone run he was responsible for came in the form of az homer off the bat of Lions superstar shortstop Kazuo Matsui in the fourth to make the score 3-1. Matsui also singled in his three plate appearances.

After Seibu had brought a run across in the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers responded in the top of the seventh, as off of Seibu southpaw Yoshitaka Mizuo, the little centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi, who has possibly the coolest name in pro sports since his last name means "red star," tripled down the right field line to drive in catcher Katsunori Nomura, who had doubled. Then shortstop Yoshinori Okihara grounded to second to bring in Akahoshi and Hanshin's advantage was now 5-2.

Seibu chipped a run off of that disparity in the bottom of the inning, but then Hanshin righty Hiroyuki Yamaoka pitched out of a big jam in the eighth and stranded a Lions runner in the ninth to close it out while his teammates put an unearned run on the board off of Seibu closer Shinji Mori in the ninth. This is the first time in three years that Hanshin has begun a season with consecutive open sen wins since 1999.

Evans, who came to Japan last season after former Cardinal and Angel Eduardo Perez couldn't figure out Japanese pitching, was hoped to be the team's savior but ended up in the Japanese minors before season's end as the Tigers tumbled to another last place finish. This year, he is likely to again put in a lot of time on the farm since Hanshin signed free agent George Arias from Orix and three pitchers, Mark Valdes, Buddy Carlyle and Trey Moore, figure to start the season with the big club. There is a four foreigner limit per team.

The struggle for Evans got even harder when Hanshin inked outfielder Derek White, 32, to a deal this past week. White is said to resemble Mike Tyson and it could be that the Tigers will choose punch over a gap hitter such as Evans. Evans has opened his stance at the suggestion of batting coach Tom O'Malley and it has been paying dividends so far in intrasquad games as well as in Sunday's battle. In addition, Evans has shown a good eye at the plate and he worked two walks to accompany the dinger and has gotten free passes in those intrasquad affairs, too. Manager Senichi Hoshino has liked what he's seen from the Washington state native this spring and he may have to agonize as to whether to drop a pitcher to keep Evans at the "ichigun" (first team) level.

As for Matsuzaka, he went into the game limiting himself to just two pitches, his 95mph fastball and that slow curve, as he attempts to work out some kinks in his motion. The Yokohama phenom has owned Hanshin in his now four seasons of pro ball, as in six games against the Osaka contingent, Matsuzaka has gone 20 innings, given up 15 hits, three of them homers, induced 27 whiffs and posted an ERA of just 1.80. The three runs he was touched for Sunday in his three innings on the hill were all unearned.

Marines Tie Carp *Yawn* 1-1

Each team only had five hits, all singles except for a double in the ninth by Lotte's Masato Watanabe, never more than a hit in any half inning and there were a total of two walks plus a hit batsman. By agreement, this turkey was terminated after nine. Thumbs up to Hiroshima's 21 year old rookie Shuhei Yano, though, for his five inning, one run showing, permitting a measly three singles, one BB and striking out four.

Yakult Swallows the Dragons

After getting hammered Saturday by Yokohama, the Swallows hurlers rebounded with a much better effort this time around to triumph 6-1 with 8,000 in attendance at Urazoe, Okinawa. Two of the club's mainstays in their drive to the 2001 Japan Series, CL MVP Roberto Petagine and southpaw Shugo Fujii, the league wins leader last season, had their way with the Nagoya-based Chunichi Dragons, as, in his first at bat of the spring, Petagine jacked a high fastball from ex-Yomiuri lefty Kazuhiro Hiramatsu over the centerfield wall for a three run homer in the first while Fujii and four relievers held Chunichi to one run on three singles and a double.

In the second, Yakult's 19th year veteran infielder Takahiro Ikeyama cracked a solo roundtripper off of Hiramatsu. Hirobumi Watarai, Petagine's stand in at first, continues to do well early, connecting for a double in the seventh after centerfielder Tetsuya Iida had tripled to get himself another spring RBI. Watarai also had a single in his two at bats.

Chunichi's Scott Bullett had another brutal experience at the dish, fanning thrice in four at bats.

Fujii told reporters after the game's conclusion that before this start he had made a phone call to Kazuhisa Ishii to get some advice. Apparently, whatever Ishii told him worked, since Fujii disposed of all nine Dragons he faced.

Note: The Nippon Ham-Yokohama faceoff at Nago, Okinawa was rained out.

Call Him "Dumb-ston"

Yesterday at a San Francisco Giants batting practice session with utility man Shawon Dunston on the mound, Dunston made a rule that each player had to swing at his first pitch. Barry Bonds lined one to deep right center and then Tsuyoshi Shinjo sent one toward the leftfield fence, the ball landing about three feet short of going over. Dunston then needled Shinjo by asserting that the ex-Hanshin star was corking his bat. The only problem with this was that it was within earshot of the media, a really, really stupid blunder. Now it's likely sometime this season that after Shinjo takes someone way downtown that the opposing manager will ask to have Shinjo's bat examined. For that, Shawon gets my "idiot of the day" award.

And maybe I should break off a piece of that trophy for Giants manager Dusty Baker, who, according to Sports Nippon, instead of saying that Dunston was just giving Shinjo a hard time because the ex-Met is the new guy in town, went into some convoluted discussion of Sadaharu Oh's hitting theories to try to prove that Shinjo didn't need to cork his stick, to which the Japanese press said, "huh?"

Wada Headed for Dodger Stadium?

In an earlier article, I posted a scouting report on Waseda University southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada, who is drawing a lot of interest from several Japanese teams at the moment. Well, now you can add the L.A. Dodgers to that list. Wada is presently in Taiwan as part of a college tournament team and the Dodgers are giving him the old twice over. So is another confrontation in store between Dodgers V.P. Tommy Lasorda and Yomiuri Giants bigwig Shigeo Nagashima, who ripped Lasorda a new one for the Dodgers full court press to sign the 18 year old phenom Hayato Terahara (who went to Daiei, as it turned out)? Nagashima is hoping that the Giants can get their hands on Wada.

Among other clubs who visualise Wada in their uniform are Hanshin, Yakult and Kintetsu. Yakult has made a recent fetish of drafting Waseda men (Shugo Fujii, for example, is a graduate) in the last few years.

Both the Tigers and Swallows saw their 2000 number one draftees go south on them, those being respectively pitchers Taiyo Fujita and Manabu Hiramoto. Hiramoto, after refusing a minor league deal out of Ritsumeikan University from the Yankees to remain in Japan, couldn't throw a strike to save his life in spring training after being projected as the team's replacement for departed veteran hurler Kenjiro Kawasaki, who packed his bags for Nagoya.

Fujita came out of Japan's industrial leagues, having played with Kawasaki Seitetsu in Chiba Prefecture, and also needed a seeing eye dog to zero in on home plate. To make things worse, both had, to be charitable, unconvincing season in the minors, so each may be at least 2-3 years away. Of the two, Hiramoto, a righty sidearmer with a 94mph fastball, has the better raw stuff, so if he can harness it he should have a decent NPB career.

Sumo Meets Baseball

At the Mariners camp in Peoria, AZ who shows up but none other than Wakanohana (real name: Masaru Hanada), former Sumo Yokozuna. Wakanohana and his brother, Takanohana, are the only siblings to make Yokozuna in the 2000 year history of the sport. Wakanohana had injuries that wouldn't allow him to continue his life in the dohyo (sumo ring) and has turned his attentions toward pro football.

Last year, he had tryouts with the a couple of NFL clubs, who weren't interested, so he played in a fledgling Japanese league, the X League (no relation, thankfully, to the XFL). He is in Arizona right now trying out for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.

Also putting in an appearance at the same facility were Ichiro's former manager with Orix, Akira Ogi, as well as Ichiro's old batting instructor with the same club, Hiromasa Arai.. Ichiro played golf with Arai this past January, so he is still keeping tabs on ex-teammates and coaches back in Japan.

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