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Baseball Analysis Home   Gary Garland / the japanese insider



March 23, 2002

Fukuhara Blows Lead and Then Valdez Loses it in Kintetsu Victory

     Despite the low score, this 4-3 ballgame wasn't particularly well pitched, pockmarked by plenty of doubles and then ending, perhaps appropriately, when struggling Hanshin closer Mark Valdez hit Kintetsu leftfielder Fumitoshi Takano with a pitch and then learned the meaning of "sayonara two base" when one of his pitches was drilled into the rightcenterfield gap by infielder Osamu Hoshino, an erstwhile Tiger, for the game winning RBI at Osaka Dome Saturday.

     Hanshin ambushed Kintetsu starter Hiroto Kato in the first inning, when rightfielder Koji Hirashita doubled down the leftfield line for openers. He then came home on a single to right by second baseman Taichiro Kamisaka, resulting in an instant 1-0 Tigers lead.

     But Hanshin starter Shinji Taninaka couldn't hold it, as in the bottom of the same stanza, centerfielder Naoyuki Omura leadoff with a single to left and then was forced by Hoshino. Leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes doubled off of the rightfield wall and Hoshino stopped at third. Third baseman Norihiro Nakamura hit a ground ball to his opposite number, Shuta Tanaka, at third and Tanaka threw to the plate to nail Hoshino. Rightfielder Koichi Isobe banged a single to center and Rhodes set the controls for the heart of the dish and it was 1-1.

     In the second, Hanshin put something on the big board again by exploiting an infield single from Tanaka, a groundball to the pitcher that permitted Tanaka enough time to reach second, and then a double down the rightfield line by catcher Akihiro Yano to lend the Tigers a 2-1 edge.

     Things got quiet for an inning or so until back to back two out doubles from Rhodes and Nakamura knotted it at two all in the bottom of the third.

     Hanshin responded promptly in the next half inning, when they converted a one out error by Buffaloes shortstop Masahiro Abe on a groundball from leftfielder Derrick White into their third tally with a carrom off the leftfield wall from Tanaka. Hanshin shortstop Yoshinori Okihara then hit one real hard, but right at Kintetsu second baseman Hoshino, who flipped to Abe for the double play. Nevertheless, Hanshin was on top, 3-2.

     Kintetsu had a real chance to do some righteous damage in the bottom of the sixth against Taninaka, but fumbled it away instead. Nakamura and Isobe both singled to center to start the inning. First baseman Yuji Yoshioka walked to load the bases. Taninaka had now reached the 100 pitch mark right on the button, so Hanshin boss Senichi Hoshino commanded his hurler to get a shower and wavee in Shoji Toyama. And a smart decision it was, as Toyama proceded to strikeout the side.

     The score remained static until the eighth, when manager Hoshino thought it would be a smashing good idea to choose this tight of a game to have Shinobu Fukuhara make his first spring appearance. And for the first two-thirds of the inning, that seemed to be a big success, too. All Fukuhara had to do was get Yoshioka and his day was done. Unfortunately, Fukuhara put something where it shouldn't have been and Yoshioka punished him with a blast into the rightfield bleachers. Oh well, the best laid plans and all that.

     Hanshin got a man to second on a single and a sac bunt with one out, but couldn't get  the runner across, so on to the ninth and Mark Valdez. With one out, Valdez lets one go and it tried to take a bite out of Takano, who takes his base. Omura flied to left for the second out, but Valdez  is then subverted by Hoshino and takes the loss.

     With Valdez now looking hittable and Masahide Narimoto demonstrating that he isn't the answer, Hanshin manager Hoshino has a lot to ponder. Maybe bringing Minoru Kasai out of retirement? Okay, that's pretty facetious. Probably for now he has to put his eggs in Valdez' basket and hope for the best. Trey Moore could fit into that slot, but that would mess up other plans Hoshino has for him, which include either a slot in the starting rotation or as their ace middle relief guy. So let's see what Hoshino opts to do.

Yakult-Hiroshima Game Goes to Hail

     Saturday's exhibition faceoff between the Yakult Swallows and Hiroshima Carp was called with two gone in the seventh inning and the Swallows ahead 5-2 due to a hailstorm at Meiji Jingu Stadium, Tokyo.

     Shugo Fujii started for the home team and wasn't sharp, as it took him 84 pitches to get through five innings, surrendering two earned runs on three hits and two walks.

     Hiroshima starter Yasushi Tsuruta had an even more difficult time, being responsible for three runs, two earned, in four innings of  four hit, one walk baseball on 66 pitches.

     His successor, Ken Takahashi, then came in and was taken deep by Takahiro Ikeyama for a two run homer in the bottom of  the sixth to give the Swallows a little more breathing room before Mother Nature intervened.

     The Carp had a brief lead, when they pooled a walk by rightfielder Tomonori Maeda, a single to center by first baseman Luis Lopez  and another free pass to set up a one out, bases juiced situation. Third baseman Takahiro Arai then lifted a sac fly to right and Hiroshima was up 1-0.

     Yakult used a defensive lapse by Lopez on a groundball from third baseman Akihiro Iwamura in the following half inning to tie it up, though, as Iwamura then raced in on catcher Kosei Ono's double into the leftcenter gap.

     In the fourth, Hiroshima pulled to the head of the line again when Maeda hammered a one out double to rightcenter, Lopez singled him to third and then second baseman Eddie Diaz sent a fly ball to center to plate him, 2-1 Carp after three and a half.

     Leftfielder Alex Ramirez walked to open the Yakult half of the same inning and was moved along by Iwamura's knock to right. First baseman Kota Soejima then singled to right as well and it was knotted at two. Ono grounded to the pitcher to move Iwamura up and then the latter scored on a ground ball to short from second baseman Chihiro Hamana, making it 3-2 Swallows.

     In the bottom of the sixth, backup first baseman Hirobumi Watarai singled to lead it off and was sacrificed to second. One out later, pinch hitter Ikeyama went to rightcenter for two important insurance runs and a few minutes later it was over.

     Ramirez was 0-1 with two walks and dropped to .182.

Yarnell Finds Our You Get Whiplash Looking Ahead

    Orix Blue Wave hurler Ed Yarnell was told earlier this week that he would be the opening day starter. And looking at the results he got Saturday at Nagoya Dome against the otherwise offense-challenged Chunichi Dragons, it appears that Yarnell was thinking about the grandeur of the kickoff of the regular season and not the lineup in front of him, as he was beat up for six runs, three earned, on seven hits and three walks on 90 pitches in four innings as the Dragons hung an 8-3 defeat on the ex-Yankee and Red.

     To be fair to Yarnell, though, he wasn't that bad the first three innings, giving up a couple of hits and a walk. But then in the bottom of the fourth, after Orix had staked Yarnell to a 2-0 lead on a triple to rightcenter by shortstop Makoto Shiozaki, an RBI double down the leftfield line by DH Kazuhiko Shiotani and a triple to leftcenter by catcher Takeshi Hidaka, the Dragons
came up and basically gave Yarnell a thorough hiding. Rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome leadoff the Chunichi charge with a double over the head of Orix rightfielder Ikuro Katsuragi. Third baseman Leo Gomez walked. Second baseman Kazuyoshi Tatsunami rapped an RBI single to center. Catcher Motonobu Tanishige, who has been on fire this spring, flamed a two bagger to leftcenter that pushed in both Gomez and Tatsunami and now the Dragons were in the driver's seat 3-2. First baseman Takeshi Yamasaki walked. Two outs later, shortstop Hirokazu Ibata tapped a ball to Orix third baseman Scott Sheldon, who misplayed it to allow another Chunichi tally. Centerfielder Toshio Haru singled to center to bring in Yamasaki and Fukudome singled to right to plate Ibata to make it 6-2 Dragons.

     Orix seemed as if they were going to mount some resistance in the fifth off of Chunichi starter Masahiro Yamamoto, as they got one out singles to left from second baseman Koichi Oshima and Katsuragi,but that all turned to dust when Sheldon hit a comebacker to Yamamoto, who wheeled and relayed it to Tatsunami at second, who then winged it on to Yamasaki at first for the double play.

      In the sixth, Chunichi tacked on another run off of Orix reliever Satoshi Tokumoto with a two out double down the leftfield line from Ibata and a single to center by Haru to drive in Ibata to make it 7-2.

     With nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, pinch hitter Yasuaki Taiho homered to right off of Kazuo Yamaguchi to open an 8-2 Dragons lead. Orix then had one last hurrah with a dinger to right from pinch hitter Mitsutaka Goto off of Eddie Gaillard and that was that, an 8-3 final in the Dragons favor.

     For Orix, both Sheldon and first baseman Fernando Seguignol were 1-4 to fall to .256 and .252 respectively. Centerfielder Yoshitomo Tani was 1-5 with a stolen base to step down to .444. Yarnell's spring ERA ballooned to 3.68.

     Gomez was 0-3 and is now hitting .233.

Stars Pitching Implodes in 9-4 Defeat at the Hands of Seibu

     Ace Daisuke Miura and three other Yokohama Bay Stars hurlers were racked for 14 hits, five walks and nine runs, all earned, in Seibu's 9-4 victory at Yokohama Stadium Saturday.

     Southpaw Koji Mitsui started for the Lions and while he was hampered by some dubious glovework behind him, got okay results, holding the Stars to three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks in his 5.1 inning, 100 pitch stint.

     Seibu DH Tetsuya Kakiuchi got the Lions in front in the top of the second with a homer to left off of Miura and then the big cats added to that an inning later with a one out double to leftcenter by shortstop Kazuo Matsui and a shot down the leftfield line from rightfielder Tatsuya Ozeki for Seibu's second tally. First baseman Ken Suzuki then pinged one off the centerfield wall to prod Ozeki to the dish for a 3-0 advantage.

     Yokohama asserted itself mildly when Stars shortstop Takuro Ishii hit a ground ball that Suzuki misplayed into a two base error. Ishii then came around on a single to center by leftfielder Hitoshi Nakane to cut it to 3-1 Lions.

     The home team drew even closer in bottom of the fifth with two gone, as Ishii bouced one off the rightfield wall and then wheeled around and back to the dugout on a steamer down the leftfield line by centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo to make it 3-2.

     But in the top of the sixth and one away, leftfielder Kazuhiro Wada singled to center for Seibu. One out later, third baseman Tsuyoshi Furuya doubled to left, Wada chugging for home and it was 4-2 Lions.

      Yokohama, though, got even in the bottom portion of the inning. Second baseman Hitoshi Taneda went to the gap to get himself a double. One out later, infielder Hirofumi Ogawa did similarly to make it 4-3. Pinch hitter Takanori Suzuki grounded to second to move Ogawa over to third, from where he trotted home on a baseknock to center by pinch hitter Takahiro Saeki to give rise to a 4-4 deadlock.

     In the top of the eighth, Susumu Nakanowatari basically gave the game away. He walked the first batter he faced, Suzuki, plunked Wada, and distributed another free pass, this time to Kakiuchi, to pack the sacks. Furuya then partially unclogged the basepaths with a two run single to center and the frame ended with the Lions again looking down on the Stars 6-4.

     Then in the ninth, the Lions sent seven men to the plate against Guzman, with three of them scoring on RBI singles from substitute leftfielder Masaji Shimizu and backup DH Hiro Takagi and then a ground ball to second that got Shimizu in. Yokohama then went in order and the Lions went home happy, 9-4.

     Mike Gulan started at third for the Bay Stars and went 0-3 with a walk to decline to .304. Rightfielder Boi Rodrigues was 0-4 to regress to .250.

     Kazuo Matsui was 2-5 to hike his figure up to .316. He also had an error, which, iirc, is his fourth of the spring.

Iguchi, Burkhart Each Go Yard in Daiei Romp Over Giants

     For five innings, Giants starter Koji Uehara, his rotation buddy Masumi Kuwata, and middle reliever Tsuyoshi Jobe shutout the Hawks as the Yomiuri nine took advantage of an error by Hawks starter Keisaburo Tanoue to seize a 1-0 lead. However, the Fukuoka side then exploded against Yomiuri's other relievers to amass eight runs as they trounced their Tokyo rivals 8-1 at Tokyo Dome.

     The Giants attained their ultimately fleeting lead in bottom of the second when centerfielder Hideki Matsui, who had two of the three hits that Yomiuri would collect in the contest, singled to left. First baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara then hit a ball near the mound that Tanoue muffed and everybody was safe. Third baseman Akira Etoh grounded into a 5-6-3 double play, but Matsui reached third on the play. Catcher Shinnosuke Abe walked. Shortstop Daisuke Motoki then tapped a roller by the pitcher that he beat out and Matsui came in, 1-0 Giants.

     Now on to the visitors half of the sixth and DH Noriyoshi Omichi singling to center off of 20 year old rookie Masami Ishikawa to get things rolling. Shortstop Yusuke Torigoe sacrificed Omichi to second. One out later, leftfielder Pedro Valdez doubled Omichi in to tie it. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi then cannonaded an Ishikawa pitch into the leftcenterfield bleachers and all of a sudden it's 3-1 Hawks. Third baseman Hiroki Kokubo walked. Rightfielder Koji Akiyama then legged out an infield hit. He was pinch run for by Arihito Muramatsu. Catcher Kenji Johjima then made a homer bid himself, but had to
be content with a two run double as the ball came off the leftfield fence and a 5-1 Daiei lead.

     During their next ups, the Hawks lit up Hector Almonte, who had heretofore been unscored upon. With one out, centerfielder Hiroshi Shibahara bounced a ball to Giants first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who botched the play. One out later, Iguchi walked. Kokubo then doubled down the leftfield line to score Shibahara. Muramatsu singled in Iguchi and the inning ended with the Hawks in charge 7-1.

     Morgan Burkhart, who already had a double and a single in the game, was the beneficiary of a sweet offering from Yukinaga Maeda, and he donated it to the folks in the leftcenterfield stands for the final margin of victory, 8-1.

     Burkhart's 3-4 day boosted his average to .333.

     Tanoue had a brilliant outing the error notwithstanding, going five innings on 65 pitches, being touched for only two hits and the unearned run, striking out four and walking one.

     Matsui, with a gaggle of MLB scouts looking on, is now hitting .375. His teammate, Uehara, struckout five in a one hit three inning performance. Masumi Kuwata followed with a two strikeout perfect frame in a tuneup to get ready for the regular season. Both runs Almonte surrendered were unearned, so he still has yet to permit an earned run this spring.

Marines Kato Roasts Nippon Ham 6-2

     Southpaw Kosuke Kato twirled six brilliant innings of shutout ball on three hits, striking out five and walking none as his Chiba Lotte Marines offense cracked 11 hits to take it 6-2 over Nippon Ham at Chiba Marine Stadium Saturday.
Unfortunately, none of that run production showed itself until Kato had exited.

     That's because Nippon Ham's Hiroyuki Sekine was weaving five excellent innings himself, allowing three hits and striking out five and walking none, almost a mirror image of Kato's outing.

     The game was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth, when Lotte shortstop Makoto Kosaka walked to open the inning. Leftfielder Kenji Morozumi sacrificed Kosaka to second. One out later, DH Frank Bolick doubled Kosaka in and it was 1-0 Marines.

     Nippon Ham got even on back to back doubles from backup leftfielder Yoshinori Ueda and outfielder Yutaka Nakamura in the top of the seventh, but then in the bottom of the frame, Lotte got three consecutive singles to center off of Hiroshi Shibakusa to go ahead 2-1. Masa Watanabe then sacrificed runners to second and third to set the stage for RBI singles by Morozumi and third baseman Kazunori Iyoda and Morozumi's coming to the plate on an error by Fighters second baseman Makoto Kaneko and it was 5-1 after seven.

     In the top of the eighth, Fighters first baseman Seigo Fujishima booted a ground ball to allow Lotte second baseman Hisao Heiuchi to reach with two gone. Catcher Yoichi Fukuzawa doubled down the rightfield line to plate Heiuchi and it was 6-1 Lotte.

     In the ninth, Fujishima leadoff by pounding a Naoyuki Shimizu delivery into the leftcenterfield seats. Shimizu got three of the next four men and it was "game setto."

     For Nippon Ham, leftfielder D.T. Cromer was 0-2 to sink to .263.

     Bolick was 1-3 to improve to .176. Rightfielder Derrick May was 0-2 and is now at .289 for Lotte.

Irabu Headed to Mets in Kapler Trade?

     According to Nikkan Sports, there may be a deal in the works between the Texas Rangers and the New York Mets which would see pitcher Bruce Chen and outfielder Jay Payton go to Arlington in exchange for pitcher Hideki Irabu, outfielder Gabe Kapler and reliever Luis Vizcaino. If the trade is indeed executed and I suspect one more player will be exiting NY in such a transaction), Irabu would be reuniting with his old Chiba Lotte Marines manager, Bobby Valentine, who helmed that club in 1995, as well as former rotation mate Satoru Komiyama.

Shinjo Outhitting Ichiro This Spring

     With his 3-4 performance Saturday against Oakland coupled with Ichiro taking the collar against the Arizona, Tsuyoshi Shinjo is now outhitting Ichiro Suzuki .333 to .309. Ichiro had been hitting over .400 until going into a recent 2-16 tailspin. Mark Mulder started for Oakland and Shinjo took a 1-2 cut fastball from him down the leftfield line for a double and then came around to score on a single by Barry Bonds in the first inning. All three of Shinjo's knocks were on two strike counts.

     In the stands for the game was Shinjo's wife, Shiho, who had been so busy looking for a place to live since Shinjo was traded from the Mets that she hadn't had a chance to go to any of her husband's games until Saturday.

     By the way, for anyone who is curious, Ichiro was 6-13 last season against Mulder.

Irony at Play in St. Louis

     After being totally befuddled last season in Osaka as a Hanshin Tiger, Eduardo Perez may win a roster spot with the St. Louis Cardinals. If he does, he would almost certainly be taking the place of ex-Orix outfielder So Taguchi, who had been in the midst of an 0-17 slump.

     In 2001 for Orix, Taguchi hit .280 and won another Gold Glove while Perez hit an anemic .222, had Hanshin's defensive coach throwing his hands in the air with his lack of range at third, and then missed the entire second half of the season with an injury.

     There are two messages here: one, there are horses for courses; two, any pitcher who throws Perez a fastball should be immediately shipped to Class A ball. Hell, send John Houseman out to the mound and tell such a hurler, "here is a dime. Tell your mother there are strong doubts about you becoming a major league pitcher."

Felipe Crespo Signs with Yomiuri

     Former San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies utilityman Felipe Crespo has now signed with the Yomiri Giants and should see a lot of playing time against lefthanded pitchers this season in place of leftfielder Takayuki Shimizu. There is also some discussion by the Giants of using Tomohiro Nioka in left at times and putting Crespo at an infield position. We'll see.

Felix Jose Being Looked at by Chunichi

     Felix Jose, a former Cardinal and Royal who has hit over .300 twice in his minor league career and who was invited to spring traning with the Montreal Expos this after spending 2001 with the Lotte Giants in Korea, appears that he is Nagoya bound in the wake of  Scott Bullet's problems at the plate. Jose has a career MLB average of .280 with 51 homers and 314 RBIs. Complete stats at:

Perverted Catholic Priest Scandal Hits MLB

     Now that you've no doubt read that story, I've got one about my own experience with a hentai prelate. A number of years ago, I was working at a hotel in southern California near Disneyland. One week, a group of teachers, priests, and students from a northern California Catholic private junior high school came for some kind of conference. Then one Sunday morning, all of the students, teachers and priests checked out save one person, a man I'll call "Father J."

     That evening, one of the adult guests came into the front desk area where I was working and complained that there was a guy in the pool area trying to talk to and touch the little kids in there. So I strolled over to the pool with the guest and lo and behold it was Father J. he pointed out.

     While the other parents kept an eye on this guy, who was now sitting in the jacuzzi, I went back to the office and called the Anaheim PD, who showed up about ten minutes later. The police conducted short interviews with me and a couple of the kids and parents and then questioned Father J. Keep in mind that the kids who were in the pool area were really creeped out by this guy.

     The police said that Father J. didn't do enough to be arrested, but that it was probably advisable to have him removed from the hotel grounds. So I ordered our security to do exactly that. He was also banned for life from the property. For their part, the officers really did want to take Father J. away in handcuffs, but they are confined by what the law allows them to do.

     The thing that really sucks about this is that due to possible libel issues, we couldn't report Father J. to his school, diocese (who, given what we now know about the Church's behavior vis a vis these matters, would have just tried to laugh this off anyway) or anyone else. That still pains me to this day.

March 22, 2002

Arias Blast Gives Hanshin Pre-season Supremacy

     A two run sixth inning homer by Hanshin third baseman George Arias to leftcenter off of Shigetoshi Yamakita, his second roundtripper of the spring, was the decisive blow Friday in a 3-1 Tigers victory over the Chunichi Dragons at Kyoto.  By winning, Hanshin assured itself of emerging on top for this exhibition season, the first time in seven seasons that they had accomplished that.

     However, the game was also marred by a baseball fight (in other words, a lot of pushing and shoving and not much else) in the wake of Chunichi catcher Motonobu Tanishige getting nailed with a pitch in the eighth, which came after Hanshin's DH, Tomochika Tsuboi, was plunked in the fifth by Dragons starter Kenta Asakura and then Asakura's teammate, Masataka Endo, drilled Tigers catcher Ryo Yoshimoto in the seventh.

     The Dragons abused four Hanshin hurlers for 11 hits and two walks, but didn't do anything substantial with them whereas the Tigers got six safeties and won the game. Chunichi broke what was a scoreless deadlock in the top of the fifth with two out when shortstop Hirokazu Ibata singled to center and stole second.  Rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome, continuing to be hot as a pistol, then torched a double to the leftfield wall to easily plate Ibata for a temporary 1-0 Dragons lead.

     Hanshin retorted in the bottom of the inning thanks to a fielding miscue by Dragons leftfielder Jun Inoue. Outfielder Osamu Hamanaka walked to leadoff the inning. Inoue then dropped a fly ball and it was men on first and second with nobody out. Pinch hitter Derrick White grounded to short for the 6-4-3 double play, but that also allowed Hamanaka to scoot over to third. Tsuboi got up close and personal with the baseball and then centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi singled to left for the 1-1 tie.

     The next time Hanshin's lineup came up to bat, third baseman Atsushi Kataoka walked to lead it off and was pinch run for by Taichiro Kamisaka. Arias then battled Yamakita  to a 2-2 standstill over the first six pitches before the Chunichi southpaw tried to hit the outside corner with a fastball and missed his spot, a mistake that Arias was able to leverage into the game winning hit.

     Masashi Date started for Hanshin and while he only permitted one run to score, Chunichi did him for seven hits and four walks in five innings on 82 pitches. So give him points for persistence if not for beauty.

     White finished 0-2 to shrink to .242. Arias had the longball plus two strikeouts and a walk in his four times up to raise his average to .225.

     For the Dragons, Scott Bullet started in centerfield and went 1-2 to elevate his mark to .136. Third baseman Leo Gomez went 0-4 to regress to .259.

Rookie Ishikawa Gets Hammered by Seibu in 6-5 Yakult Defeat

     After seeing one of his rotation guys, Hirotsugu Maeda, basically throw batting practice to the opposition this spring, the Swallows were hoping that number one draft choice Masanori Ishikawa would patch that hole in the pitching staff, but the Aoyama Gakuin grad has been ineffective lately and Friday he got his clock cleaned by the Seibu Lions in the Lions 6-5 win.

     The diminutive southpaw screwballer went five innings and was charged with five runs on nine hits, two of which were rifled over the Seibu Dome fences, struckout two and walked none.

     Takashi Ishii started for Seibu and wasn't exactly setting the world on fire with what he was sending up to the plate, being cuffed around for four earned runs on ten hits and striking out six while walking none. Consequently, since Ishii's successor, Tomoki Hoshino, permitted the tying run to score, Ishikawa wasn't named the loser of the ballgame.

     Yakult obtained an early lead in the first thanks to a one out single to center by shortstop Shinya Miyamoto and a triple into the leftcenter gap by white hot rightfielder Atsunori Inaba, the inning ending 1-0 visitors.

     Seibu objected with their own score in the bottom of the frame. With one out, rightfielder Tatsuya Ozeki singled to center. DH Toshiaki Inubshi singled to right and Ozeki motored to third. Inubushi then got involved in a rundown and that created enough time for Ozeki to cross the plate and tie it at 1-1.

     In the top of the second, Yakult made noise again, beginning with a single to center by first baseman Hirobumi Watarai. Second baseman Noriyuki Shiroishi then doubled down the leftfield line and Watarai sprinted home to make it 2-1 Swallows.

     Ishikawa got the Lions out in order in the bottom of the inning and his team's offense went right back to work in the third. Miyamoto kicked things off with a single to center. Inaba then slammed a ball to the centerfield fence and Miyamoto was back in the dugout while Inaba cruised into second, 3-1 Yakult.

     Seibu brought out the artillery in their half of the inning, however. With two out, shortstop Kazuo Matsui crushed a shot to the centerfield seats and it was 3-2. Ozeki singled to left. Inubushi then jackhammered an Ishikawa offering into the leftfield stands and now the Lions were up 4-3.

     Ishii got through the top of the fourth without anyone scoring despite giving up a couple of hits, so now on to the Seibu part of it and leftfielder Tetsuya Kakiuchi sets things up with a double down the leftfield line. Third baseman Scott McClain singled to center and Kakiuchi held at third. Centerfielder Susumu Otomo singled to right and Kakiuchi jogged in to make it 5-3.

     Yakult got it back, though, when Inaba singled to left to commence the fifth and one out later was tripled in by third baseman Akinori Iwamura and it was 5-4.

     In the top of the sixth, catcher Tomohito Yoneno homered to left off of Hoshino and it was five all. Ryota Igarashi, was then asked to hold the line and instead he was stuck with the loss when backup third baseman Tsuyoshi Furuya doubled down the leftfield line and was then plated by a two bagger to center from Otomo, 6-5 Seibu. Three Seibu relievers each had a perfect inning and it was curtains for Yakult.

     Seibu first baseman Alex Cabrera was 0-2 to fall to .196. McClain was 1-2 to hike his mark to .159. Matsui was 1-4 to slip to .303.

   Yakult leftfielder Alex Ramirez was 0-4 to spiral downward to .185. Inaba, with his 3-4 showing, ascended to a heavenly .560.

March 21 2002

Cabrera Hammers Terahara into the Minors

     Hayato Terahara, this year's phenom, came in to start the seventh inning Thursday to try to protect a 1-0 Daiei Hawks lead against the Seibu Lions at Seibu Dome. The first hitter he faced, Alex Cabrera, an ex-Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and the owner of 49 homers in his first season in Japan last year, quickly found a 1-0 89mph fastball down and in the middle part of the plate from the righthanded 18 year old and belted it into the grassy area beyond the leftfield wall to tie the game and cost the youngster a roster spot with the Hawks. That was the first dinger Terahara has ever given up as a pro.

     Terahara has been doing pretty well up to now, though his first start was a little shaky, but the Hawks are definitely doing the right thing sending Terahara down so that he can develop under more obscure circumstances rather than amid the glare of a ballclub that drew more than three million fans in 2001. So good on manager Sadaharu Oh and company for doing what is best for the long term development of a promising prospect. Btw, Terahara was clocked at a high of 91mph.

     Getting back to the game, though, one out later, Scott McClain, who is mired in a horrendous slump, then boomed a double into the gap. Terahara then stranded McClain when he got the next two hitters on fly balls.

      Terahara came back out for the eighth and was victimized by the extra base hit again, this time by Seibu DH Taisei Takagi, to drive in shortstop Kazuo Matsui, who had walked and then been sacrificed to second and the Nichinan Gakuen High grad was hung with the loss, as Daiei went down quietly in the ninth against Lions closer Shinji Mori.

     Terahara's problems in this one ruined a stellar outing by starter Akichika Yamada, who was drafted in 2000 on the second round. The 23 year old righty went five shutout innings of three hit, six strikeout baseball on 78 pitches.

     For Seibu, Ming-chieh Hsu had his best effort of the spring, allowing six hits but just one run over six innings, that coming on first baseman Morgan Burkhart's homer to right in the third.

     Cabrera finished 1-4 to elevate his average to .205. McClain was 1-3 and is now at .143. Kazuo Matsui had a double, a walk and two strikeouts in four chances at the dish to rise to .310.

     Burkhart seems to now have himself on solid ground, getting two hits in three at bats to lift his mark to a solid .295. Rodney Pedraza threw in this one and went one hitless inning, walking one and striking out one. Leftfielder Pedro Valdez was 1-4 to climb to .224.

14 Hits and 11 Earned Runs Buys Maeda a Ticket to the Farm in 16-2 Giants Romp

     Let's see: Giants game, 16 runs in bandbox Meiji Jingu. That means lots of homers, right? Or at least a bucketful of extra base hits from a lineup with sluggers such as Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Akira Etoh in it, right? To quote Maxwell Smart, missed it by THAT much.

     Yomiuri collected an astounding 22 hits, 14 of them off of Yakult starter Hirotsugu Maeda, but a measly three were for extra bases. You would have thought that the Giants had mistaken Meiji Jingu for a singles bar since they rapped out 19 of the suckers.

     The Giants regular shortstop, Tomohiro Nioka, who has been out all spring rehabbing an oblique muscle strain, made his 2002 debut Thursday and it doesn't get much better than a 5-6, six RBI day. Nioka is better defensively than Daisuke Motoki, though  Motoki is a somewhat better hitter. In fact, Motoki was the DH in this contest and went 3-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.

     Starting for Yomiuri on the mound was John Wasdin, who did okay, going five innings of two run (one earned) ball and being touched for six hits, including third baseman Akinori Iwamura's second inning solo blast to rightcenter that was Yakult's first score of the ballgame.

     Maeda had been getting knocked around pretty badly all spring and this was the last straw for Yakult manager Tsutomu Wakamatsu, who sent the lefthander down to the minors after Maeda's ERA ballooned to 11.25 in the aftermath of the Giants assault.

     Major league scouts were in the stands to see Hideki Matsui and Godzilla didn't do that much, going 1-4 with a walk in five times up and made an error in centerfield.

     Hector Almonte toiled for an inning, loading up the bases on two hits and a walk, but managed to wriggle out of it to maintain his scoreless streak.

Yokohama Bombards Marines 9-4

     For five innings, Yokohama Bay Stars starter Nomura was dominating the Chiba Lotte Marines, who Nomura allowed just one minor scoring chance during that time. Ahead 4-0 in part thanks to a two run homer from third baseman Mike Gulan in the fifth off of Nathan Minchey, he went into the sixth and got taken deep for a three run homer by first baseman Kazuya Fukuura and then that was followed by a double from DH Frank Bolick and an RBI single by leftfielder Derrick May to tie the game. And that was all that Lotte had to offer, since Yokohama then went on to score five unanswered runs from there on in.

     In the bottom of that same inning, outfielder Hitoshi Nakane walked. Two outs later, pinch hitter Hirofumi Ogawa singled to left. Shortstop Takuro Ishii, who in his limited time back from injury is having a great spring thus far, tripled down into the leftfield corner to plate both Nakane and Ogawa and make it 6-4 Stars.

     Then in the seventh, leftfielder Kazunori Tanaka beat out a roller to first with two gone. Nakane checked in and mortared an offering from Takagi into the rightfield bleachers and put his club up by four, 8-4.

     An inning later, Takanori Suzuki pinch hit and singled to center, as did Ogawa. Centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo then lashed a double down the leftfield line and Suzuki scored easily for the game's final run at 9-4.

     Gulan's dinger was his fourth of the spring and was his sole hit in five at bats to lower his average to .326. Rightfielder Boi Rodriguez was 0-1 with a walk and a sac fly in three plate appearances to drop to .278.

     Takuro Ishii was 4-5 to boost his average to .406.

     May was 2-4 to kick his mark up to .306 for Lotte. Bolick was 1-4 and raised his average to .161.

Fukudome Homers Twice in Dragons Victory

     When I was living in Japan I don't remember seeing Wheaties there, but whatever rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome is eating he needs to keep scarfing it down as he brought the whooping stick to Kobe with him Thursday and socked two out of the field of play for a total of four RBIs in the Chunichi Dragons 7-2 triumph at Green Stadium over Orix.

     The six foot, 180 pound 24 year old rightfielder has a career high of 16 longballs, which he hit during his rookie year in 1999, but he already has six this spring, more than Godzilla Matsui. The question is, when the bell rings, will he keep it up and provide a spark to a dubious offense? Certainly, having Leo Gomez in front of him helps, so he could have a career year barring injury and Chunichi will need it if it has any hope of contending with the powerful Swallows and Giants, an improved Yokohama team, and a resurgent Hanshin outfit.

     Masahiko Kaneda started for Orix and went five innings, allowing all seven earned runs on eight hits. Six of those runs came in his last inning of work, when DH Jiro Fujitate singled to center to lead it off, followed by another knock from first baseman Takeshi Yamasaki, a two run double into the leftcenterfield gap by catcher Motonobu Tanishige, a ground ball by leftfielder
Scott Bullet to first that got Tanishige to third, an RBI single by shortstop Hirokazu Ibata, a single to center by centerfielder Takayuki Onishi and a three run dong by Fukudome, who had also gone yard to center in the first to give the Dragons their inital lead.

     Orix got both of its runs in the bottom of the sixth after singles by catcher Takashi Miwa and pinch hitter Manabu Satake to lead off the inning, a grounder to second by centerfielder Yoshitomo Tani that moved Miwa to third, an infield hit from second baseman Koichi Oshima to score Miwa, a walk to rightfielder Ikuro Katsuragi and a single to left by DH Scott Sheldon. First
baseman Fernando Seguignol and shortstop Makoto Shiozaki then both whiffed to kill the rally.

     The Dragons will depend on pitching, which has been erratic for them so far in the pre-season, but Thursday Akira Miyakoshi went five shutout innings on three hits and didn't walk anyone to lower his ERA to 3.52.

     Sheldon was 1-4 to step down to .256 while Seguignol was 0-4 with two strikeouts to sink to .263.

     Gomez was 1-2 to hike his average up to .304 while Bullet was 1-4 to rise to .119.

     Aside from hitting .346 this spring, Tanishige has shot down 75% of runners trying to steal off of him now.

Nippon Ham More Muscular Than Buffaloes 13-4

     If there is a guy who is perhaps the Rick Helling of the Pacific League, it is Katsuhiko Maekawa. He was 12-9 with a 5.89 ERA last season and basically depended on run support to get him that winning record. This spring, he has been getting absolutely destroyed. If he was on most other clubs, he would have been sent back down to the minors. But given Kintetsu's dodgy pitching situation, it looks like they are going to stick with him in the hopes that the 23 year old will have some kind of breakthrough.

     Thursday at Tokyo Dome, Maekawa was blistered again for eight runs, all earned, on seven hits in one inniing as the Nippon Ham Fighters cruised to an easy 13-4 win. His spring ERA is now 13.00. Maybe he can commiserate with Hirotsugu Maeda of the Yakult Swallows.

     The carnage began almost as soon as Maekawa was finished with his warm up tosses. Nippon Ham's centerfielder, Tatsuya Ide leadoff the bottom of the first by drilling a ball up the leftcenter gap for a double. One out later, first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara singled to left to get Ide in. Another out down the road, leftfielder D.T. Cromer was nailed by a Maekawa pitch. No surprise there, as Maekawa tied with Hanshin's Shinji Taninaka for the lead in all of Japanese baseball in that category last season with 14.  Rightfielder Toshihiro Noguchi hit a ball near short that he beat out for a hit and that got Ogasawara in. Third baseman Kuniyuki Kimoto then smashed a ball down the rightfield line to bring in two more and the first inning ended with the Fighters in control at 4-0.

     In the bottom of the second, catcher Kazunari Sanematsu lead off with a double down the leftfield line. Ide then beat out a roller toward short. Shortstop Hiroshi Narahara then bashed a two run double down the leftfield line to make it 6-0 Nippon Ham. Ogasawara walked. Buffs boss Masataka Nishida had seen enough and waved in Daisuke Miyamoto, who got DH Sherman Obando to pop to short. But then Cromer tripled down the righfield line to plate both Ogasawara and Narahara and it was 8-0 home team.

     Nippon Ham starter Hayato Nakamura had allowed only a hit and a walk over the first four innings, but ran into a little bit of opposition in the fifth. With one out, Isobe singled to center. Yuji Yoshioka then hit one on the screws into the biggest part of the yard to make it 8-2.

     In the bottom of the fifth, Kimoto dialed long distance to leftcenter to lead the inning off to widen his club's advantage to 9-2. Nippon Ham then loaded the bases thanks to two hit batsmen and a walk, but Ogasawara grounded into a 4-6-3 twin killing to spoil the fun.

     D.T. Cromer singled to center with one out to get things going again for the Fighters in the bottom of the sixth. Hichori Morimoto came in to pinch run for him and stole second. One out later, Kimoto singled to right with his fourth RBI of the afternoon to make it 10-2. Second baseman Makoto Kaneko doubled to rightcenter to score Kimoto, but Kaneko was thrown out going for third and the stanza conlcuded with the Fighters in charge to the count of 11-2.

     In the top of the seventh for Kintetsu, leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes walked.  Nakamura then launched his second spring homer to make it 11-4.

     The Fighters neutralized that in the bottom of the seventh. Sanematsu singled to left to lead it off. Backup centerfielder Nakamura singled to right. One out later, substitute first baseman Seigo Fujishima cracked an RBI single to right and reserve DH Yukio Tanaka hammered one to the centerfield wall to double in Nakamura to make it 13-4.

Yabu Comeback Continues in Another Hanshin Win

     To be frank, I was personally very surprised that Hanshin chose to hold on to righthander Keiichi Yabu. To me, it was reminiscent of how the club stuck too long with an obviously washed up Toshiro Yufune until even they got the hint and
basically sent him over to Kintetsu for not much.

     I take my crow barbecue style please. Thursday, Yabu's bid to resurrect the viability of his career was proven to be a still ongoing concern, as he went five economical and strong innings of one run ball, giving up a stingy three hits, striking out two and walking none on 60 pitches in the Tigers 6-3 triumph over the Hiroshima Carp at Kurashiki Muskat Stadium. His spring ERA is 0.75 now.

     The damage for Hanshin was done by three men, centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi, second baseman Makoto Imaoka and third baseman George Arias, who each drove in a pair of runs. Howeverm having said that it was the Carp who put something up on the board first.

     In the bottom of the inital frame, third baseman Kenjiro Nomura singled to center to lead it off. Shortstop Akihiro Higashide grounded to first to move Nomura up 90 feet. Centerfielder Koichi Ogata legged out a ball near third for a hit. Leftfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto then brought Nomura in with a sac fly to right and it was 1-0 Carp.

     Hiroshima starter Ryuji Yokoyama gave up four hits and a walk through the first four innings, but a couple of double play balls helped keep Hanshin scoreless.

     Then in the fifth, Hanshin went ahead by basically pinging Yokoyama to death. Tigers shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto singled to left to begin the frame. Catcher Akihiro Yano singled to right. DH Koji Hirashita sacrificed both runners along. Akahoshi singled to left and Fujimoto and Yano crossed the plate to enable Hanshin to seize a 2-1 lead.

     Two innings down the road and with two away, Akahoshi singled to right. Imaoka then got all of a Shigeo Tamaki offering and  poleaxed it into the leftcenterfield seats to widen his team's lead to 4-2. Hiroshima manager Koji Yamamoto sends Tamaki to the showers and asks to see what Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara can do against Hanshin. Rightfielder Tomochika Tsuboi steps in against the new reliever and steams a double down the leftfield line. It was now George Arias' turn and he got a cookie from Kikuchihara too and blasted it into the leftfield bleachers and now it was 6-1 Hanshin.

     Hiroshima got single runs in the eighth and ninth before Mark Valdez induced a roller to himself from backup rightfielder Shigenobu Shima to end it. Valdez' ERA is now 4.50 after allowing runs in each of his last three appearances.

     Arias finished the game 1-4 to elevate his average to .216. Derrick White started and played left, but was hitless in four times up to slide to .258. Akahoshi, with his two hits, surged to .275.

     For Hiroshima, Rob Stanifer and Erik Schullstrom each threw a perfect inning with one strikeout.

Felipe Crespo Tokyo Bound?

     According to Sankei Sports, the Yomiuri Giants have expressed interest in aquiring ex-Phillies and SF Giants utility man
Felipe Crespo. The Giants had pursued Julio Zuleta earlier and there had been talk of going after the Rockies Butch Huskey.
If the press reports are correct, Yomiuri seems optimistic that it can sign Crespo in the next few days.

Umpires Complain About TV Blooper Shows

     Officials representing both Central League and Pacific League umpires met with executives from five tv networks in Tokyo
Friday to discuss the manner in which they are portrayed on sports blooper programs. Their complaints, according to Sports
Nippon, were three in number: one, showing bad calls by the umpires in such a way as to undermine their authority; two,
repeatedly showing scenes of umpires being struck; three, using narration that doesn't reflect what actually occured in the game.

     Actually, the best thing umpires in Japan can do to defend their image is to start doing a better job, The quality of umpiring
in Japan, uh, well, not to put too fine a point on it, SUCKS! As bad as the umpiring in MLB has gotten over the last five or so
seasons, MLB arbiters are the epitome of perfection next to the utter incompetence you get in pro yakyuu.

     Don't get me wrong, umpiring is a tough profession. An umpire basically has one shot at getting things right and only one.
That is a hell of a lot of pressure. The Japanese leagues do a horrible job in recruiting and developing umpires, so they must
bear some of the blame. And even if you are a good umpire there, the leagues aren't going to give you much support.

     So I would suggest that this problem isn't the fault of the media, but is something engendered by the manner in which
the Japanese leagues are operated. And it is in that direction that the umpires should turn their ire.

March 20

Hanshin Stages Late Rally and Then Valdez Blows Lead in 6-6 Tie with Orix

     Obviously, it just couldn't last. Hanshin's two imports from the Atlanta Braves have been giving Hanshin Tigers manager Senichi Hoshino everything he could want so far this spring in the actual games, as both men were unscored upon. Well, that came to an end Wednesday when Valdez was lit up for three hits, including a pair of  two out doubles and a walk in the bottom of the ninth at Himeji to squander a 6-4 lead in a 6-6 tie.

     Number one draft choice Yuya Ando started for the Tigers and had a disappointing outing, going seven innings and being done up for four earned runs on ten hits, two of those homers, while walking one and striking out six on 104 pitches against a club that was hitting just .243 on the spring. At least Ando can throw strikes, unlike Hanshin's 2001 number one, Taiyo Fujita.

     Orix got the jump on Hanshin in the bottom of the first. With one gone, second baseman Koichi Oshima singled to center. Rightfielder Ikuro Katsuragi then homered ro right for an instant 2-0 lead.

     The following frame, Orix loaded the bases with two out, but Katsuragi grounded out to short to terminate the possibility of a rally.

     In the top of the fifth, the Tigers got off the floor. Leftfielder Osamu Hamanaka spanked a single to center. First baseman Katsumi Hirosawa, whose glory days have been long behind him, reached back for a taste of what he used to do when he was with Yakult during the Nomura period and homered to rightcenter to being his club even at 2-2.

     However, in the fifth, Orix put the pressure on again as centerfielder Yoshitomo Tani doubled to leftcenter. Oshima singled to left to move Tani to third. Katsuragi then got his third RBI with a sac fly to center and Orix had the upper hand again, 3-2. Then two innings later, Tani homered to left making it 4-2.

     Hanshin drew closer in the eighth when pinch hitter Koji Hirashita tripled over Katsuragi with one away. Hiroshi Yagi walked. Then centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi flied out to left and Hirashita tagged up and safely negotiated the final 90 feet and it was 4-3 Blue Wave.

     But with three outs to go, Hanshin fought back to take an ephemeral lead in the eighth off of Masanobu Okubo. With one out, rightfielder Shinjiro Hiyama beat out a bleeder toward first. He was pinch run for by Fumikazu Takanami. Hamanaka walked. Hirosawa singled to left to plate Takanami and tie the score at 4-4. He was then pinch run for by Yoshinori Okihara. Imamura replaced Okubo for Orix. Hanshin Shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto singled to left and Hamanaka was thrown out at the plate. Hirashita, who stayed in the game in left while Hamanaka moved
over to right, tripled for the second time in the game over Katsuragi  to score Okihara and Fujimoto and it was 6-4 Hanshin.

     In the bottom of the inning and with Valdez now on the mound, catcher Takeshi Hidaka singled to center. Leftfielder Takashi Hida struckout, but pinch hitter Mitsutaka Goto doubled to the leftfield wall to get Hidaka all the way around and now it was a one run ballgame. Pinch hitter Kazuhiko Shiotani, a former Hanshin player, then raked a hot shot down the leftfield line to goose Goto in with the tying run. Katsuragi walked. Third baseman Tatsuya Shindo grounded to second and it ended deadlocked at 6-6.

     Tani was 3-4 and is now batting .500 on the spring and he has three homers. Both Scott Sheldon and Fernando Seguignol were 0-4 with two strikeouts for Orix and are now hitting .257 and .294 respectively.

     Hisashi Tokano started for the Blue Wave and went six good innings of two run ball on four hits, striking out six and walking none on 82

Newman Seals Rotation Spot, But Relief Gets Hammered in 8-0 Yakult Loss

     Yakult Swallows southpaw Alan Newman has had a superb spring already, but he really stepped it up Wednesday with five shutout innings of one hit ball on an economical 68 pitches against the Kintetsu Buffaloes at Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. The only blight on that was three walks, though he scattered those and was never in any serious trouble. Newman struckout four.

     Rookie reliever Takaaki Igarashi, in the wake of a perfect inning by closer Shingo Takatsu in the sixth, blew up like a zeppelin in the top of the seventh, being shredded for eight earned runs on six hits and two walks to absorb the 8-0 loss

     However, credit must be paid to Kintetsu starter Takuichi Koike, who arguably bested Newman's outing with five scoreless innings of two hit, one walk ball, striking out one on a tremendous 55 deliveries, and the three relievers  who followed him. Once Koike was done for the day, ex-Yomiuri hurler Koichi Misawa, Iori Sekiguchi and Akira Okamoto limited the birds boppers to two hits and a walked over the final four innings on a total of 45 pitches.

     So let us visit that fateful inning when all the important action occurred. Third baseman Norihiro Nakamura singled to center to lead things off. Rightfielder Koichi Isobe did similarly. One out later, DH Nigel Wilson singled to right to bring in Nakamura and give the Buffs the only run they really needed. Shortstop Masahiro Abe walked to load the bases. Pinch hitter Osamu
Hoshino returned an Igarashi pitch back up through the middle and it was 2-0. Centerfielder Fumitoshi Takano walked to force in Wilson. Leftfielder Kenshi Kawaguchi singled to right to plate Abe. Second baseman Yosuke Takasu then blazed a double to the centerfield wall and everyone came home to break the game open and give the Buffs a 7-0 advantage. Takasu went to third on the throw to the plate, from where he hustled home on a tapper near the mound and it was now 8-0.

     Alex Ramirez was 1-3 with a walk and is no hitting .213 for the Swallows.

     For Kintetsu, Wilson was 1-3 with a walk and two strikeouts and is now at .235. Leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes was 0-3 to fall to .273.

     Newman joked after the game that he wants to win 25 games this season, but then got more serious and said that realistically he thinks he has a good chance of winning ten or more.

Lotte, Yokohama Seesaw into 6-6 Tie

     Chiba Lotte Marines manager Koji Yamamoto's attempt to turn Shunsuke Watanabe, a submarining reliever who was released after last season by the Daiei Hawks, into a starter continued Wednesday at Chiba Marine Stadium against the
Yokohama Bay Stars and it still is not looking like a good fit. Watanabe, who's fastball tops out at about 80-81mph, threw six innings and was mugged for eight hits, three of which were for extra bases, and four runs (three earned) on 121 pitches, striking out three and walking two. Despite the mediocre performance, Watanabe didn't lose it thanks to Bay Stars reliever Yu Sugimoto's inability to defend a three run lead in the eighth.

     Lotte drew first blood in the bottom of the inital frame, shortstop Makoto Kosaka singled to left. Third baseman Ryosuke Sawai doubled down the rightfield line. One out later, DH Frank Bolick grounded to second to drive in Kosaka and the inning concluded with Lotte up 1-0.

     In the top of the second, rightfielder Boi Rodrigues walked to lead the inning off. DH Hiroo Ishii singled to right. Second baseman Hirofumi Ogawa grounded to short and Rodrigues moved to third and then scored when Lotte second baseman Tadaharu Sakai booted a ground ball from catcher Ryoji Aikawa to knot it up at 1-1.

     Yokohama centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo hit a roller toward second and beat it out to begin the third. First baseman Takahiro Saeki then hit a bleeder near third and he legged it out. Somehow, Kinjo managed to insinuate himself into third base, and he then scored on a sac fly from third baseman Mike Gulan and it was 2-1 Stars.

     Lotte restored equilibrium the succeeding half inning when Sakai lead off with a singled to right. Sawai then drove a shot to the rightfield wall and it was men on second and third with nobody out. First baseman Kazuya Fukuura singled to left to deadlock it at 2-2.

     In the bottom of the fourth, Lotte's centerfielder, Akira Otsuka, singled to center and then stole second. A ground ball to second by catcher Toshiya Tsuji moved Otsuka to third. Sakai singled to left for the 3-2 edge.

     Bay Star Hiroo Ishii, though, came up in the top of the sixth and took Watanabe into the leftfield bleachers for his second spring homer and the game was tied again at 3-3. Ogawa then rocketed a Watanabe pitch to the centerfield wall for a two bagger. Aikawa then dispatched Ogawa homeward with a double down the leftfield line and now Yokohama was back in front

     Yokohama was able to build on that lead in the top of the seventh, when they converted one out singles by Saeki and Gulan and an out later baseknocks by backup DH Nakane and Ogawa into two runs to make it 6-3 Stars.

     But Sugimoto, in his second inning of work, lost whatever worked for him in the seventh and was done up for two walks, four singles and a sac fly from pinch hitter Iyoda to tie the ballgame at six apiece. Nobody came close to raising any kind of threat in the ninth and thus this faceoff is in the books as a tie.

     Rookie leftfielder Mitsuru Tanaka was 1-3 and is now at .357. Kinjo was 2-5 and is now at .261. Mike Gulan was 2-4 and is going at a .342 clip now for Yokohama.

    Lotte's Bolick was 0-4 with a walk to regress to .148. Leftfielder Derrick May was 1-5 to slide to .281.

It's Not How Many You Hit, It's WHEN You Get Them as Fighters Beat Daiei 3-1

     Both Carlos Mirabal and Toshiya Sugiuchi threw extremely well in this confrontation between the Nippon Ham Fighters and Daiei Hawks at Tokyo Dome Wednesday, both clubs managing just five hits against the other's pitching, but it was the Fighters who were able to group those safeties in the right places to edge the Hawks out 3-1.

     Mirabal was just dominating, giving up just a pair of hits in his 5.2 innings, one of those of the infield variety, before leaving the game with a 2-0 lead after nailing Daiei shortstop Yusuke Torigoe with a pitch in the sixth. Mirabal walked one and struckout five.

     Sugiuchi was almost as stingy, allowing a mere three hits in his six innings and whiffing nine while walking one, but the Fighters turned those three hits into two runs to tag Sugiuchi with the loss. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara doubled to the leftfield wall. One out later, leftfielder D.T. Cromer singled to center to bring in Ogasawara for a 1-0 Nippon Ham lead.

     Then in the bottom of the fifth, with two gone, Sugiuchi plunked catcher Kazunari Sanematsu to put him on. Sugiuchi then unleashed a wild pitch to enable Sanematsu to take second. Centerfielder Tatsuya Ide then singled to right and Sanematsu sprinted in to score and open a two run advantage.

     In the top of the seventh and with one away, Nippon Ham manager Yasunori Oshima pulled Kazuya Shibata and brought in Yoshinori Tateyama to face second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. The move backfired when Iguchi connected for his first homer of the spring to left and now it was 2-1 Fighters.

     In the eighth, Nippon Ham got a single to right from backup catcher Masanori Taguchi to lead off the inning. Ide sacrificed him to second. Two outs later, rightfielder Nakamura singled to left to make it 3-1.

     Centerfielder Hiroshi Shibahara walked to start the ninth, but then leftfielder Pedro Valdez grounded into a double play and Iguchi hit a little humpback liner to the pitcher and that was all.

     Valdez was 1-4 to raise his average to .222. First Baseman Morgan Burkhart was 0-2 with a walk to sink to .268.

     For Nippon Ham, Sherman Obando struckout twice in four hitless at bats to lower his average to .242. Cromer was 1-3 to elevate his mark to .242.

     With his fine effort, Mirabal reduced his ERA to 1.32.

Daisuke Kawamoto: Japanese for Rick Ankiel

     Yomiuri Giants minor league pitcher Daisuke Kawamoto has had his problems during his fledgeling pro career. Drafted on the fifth round out of high school and assigned to the Giants Eastern League affiliate,, the 19 year old Hiroshima native got into only one game in 2001 and finished with an ERA of 36.00. The Yomiuri pitching coaches had him change his original sidearm delivery to an overhand one and when that didn't appear to be bringing any dividends they had him go back to being a sidearmer.

     So Tuesday, Kawamoto started an instructional league game against Nippon Ham's affiliate and walked the first eight men he faced, got a ground ball to the number nine hitter, and then in the midst of giving up a hit and getting another out, walked one more hitter and hit two others. And for even more fun, he threw five wild pitches during this whole exercise, ultimately being charged with eight earned runs before being removed after less than an inning's work. In all of Japanese pro baseball history, according to the paper that reported this story, Nikkan Sports, there has never been one that has seen eight walks in a row nor one in which 11 hitters reached in one inning via a combination of walks and HBP. .

     For an entire game, the record for most walks plus hit batsmen was 16 by Hideo Nomo during the Tornado's days with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in which he threw in the neighborhood of 250 pitches in a nine inning game in the early 90's. At the time, Nomo broke a record of 14 that had stood for more than 50 years.

     The most ever walks plus HBP in an inning at the big club level in Japanese history was by Takahashi Unions (who were later dissolved) hurler Mitsuru Tamura, that being seven in the eighth inning of a game on June 12, 1954, with four of those forcing in runs.

     In a minor league game, the record had been eight by Tsutomu Sakamoto of Nippon Ham in 1992.

     The five wild pitches in an inning is a new record for the minors. The record at the big club level is three, held by three different pitchers.

    The record aspect of it aside, it's obvious that the kid, as with Ankiel, totally lost his release point somewhere, though unlike with the Cardinals, the Giants pitching coaches stand to take a lot of the blame here. Gambatte Daisuke-kun!

March 19, 2002

Johjima Manrui (Bases Loaded) Blast Puts Marines in Retreat

     In Tuesday's faceoff between the Daiei Hawks and the Chiba Lotte Marines at Chiba Marine Stadium, three Daiei hitters finished the game with three hits while another trio banged out two safeties in what became a 17 hit bombardment of Lotte starter "Sunday Shingo" Ono and five other Marines hurlers in an 11-2 stomping of one of the Hawks' Pacific League rivals.

     But there are hits and then there are HITS and the one that counted in the largest amount was a grand slam into the leftfield bleachers in the top of the third by Daiei catcher Kenji Johjima to turn what had been a 3-0 game at that point into a run scoring avalanche. Johjima, after coming back from a shoulder injury, is showing few ill effects from it at the plate, as he is now batting .308. The grand salami was his first dinger of the year.

      DH Noriyoshi Omichi came up next and hit a dribbler that Lotte third baseman Ryosuke Sawai gloved and fired hurriedly to first on, but not in time to get Omichi, according to  first base umpire Kawaguchi. Lotte manager Koji Yamamoto walked out and elucidated his objection to the umpire's judgement. In the course of that conversation, Yamamoto apparently employed verbiage not usually heard in polite company in Japan and he was asked to spend the rest of the game in the clubhouse.

     What makes that ejection interesting is that according to Sports Nippon it is only the second time a manager has been given the thumb in an exhibition game since March 22, 1982, when then Hanshin manager Motoh Ando got the gate after roughing the umpire up. Furthermore, those are apparently the only two occasions when a manager was tossed in an exhibition game in Japanese baseball history. Uso (you gotta be  kidding)!

     Yamamoto said afterward that he would apologize to Kawaguchi if replays showed that Omichi was indeed safe. The Lotte skipper's anger had been building over the way the "new" high strike zone was being called since a previous confrontation with Orix and that irritation apparently boiled over Tuesday.

     The 6'3" Daiei shortstop, Yusuke Torigoe, chipped in with three RBIs, two on a two bag gapper in the seventh and the other in the ninth when he smacked a single to right off of Ken Yamasaki to plate Omichi with the team's final tally.

     Morgan Burkhart did a little bit of everything in this one, lifting a sac fly in the second to left to plate Johima and put his team up 1-0. He also had a walk and was hit by a pitch later in the game and then, in his final at bat in the ninth, singled to right to keep the inning going that culminated in the RBI knock by Torigoe. Burkhart is gradually pushing his average upward and it now sits at a respectable .282.

     Brady Raggio started for Daiei and threw very well,consistently keeping his slider down.  He toiled for six innings and permitted one earned run on five hits while striking out six and walking two on 91 pitches.

      Ono got his nickname during the 2000 season when he won six or seven consecutive starts, all on Sundays, but this was a Tuesday and Ono lasted a mere 2.1 innings and coughed up seven runs on eight hits, walked four and struckout none on 67 pitches.

     Lotte DH Frank Bolick was 1-4 with an RBI to raise his average to .174. Leftfielder Derrick May struckout in four hitless at bats to plummet, if you can call it that, to a still solid .296.

     Daiei leftfielder Pedro Valdez was 3-6 to improve to .220. Rodney Pedraza came on in the ninth, though why you have your closer come in during a blowout is beyond me. Pedraza allowed a couple of one out singels before disposing of the final pair of batters.

Moore Saves the Day After Igawa Runs Out of Gas

     Hanshin Tigers lefty Kei Igawa threw as a number one starter should, limiting the Orix Blue Wave to three hits and a run over his first five innings of work as his offense put up a four spot in the top of the fifth to go ahead 4-1. Unfortunately, he labored a bit in the sixth, as his apparent concentration on getting Scott Sheldon and Fernando Seguignol with two on and nobody out caused him to forget he needed to bear down on shortstop Makoto Shiozaki, too, and the latter made him pay with a three run "gyakuten (come from behind)" bomb to left at Green Stadium Kobe Tuesday.

     Fortunately for Hanshin boss Senichi Hoshino, he now has Trey Moore in the bullpen and Moore overpowered the Blue Wave lineup for three innings, with no ball leaving the infield, while the Tigers hitters gathered themselves for two more scoring assaults that won them the ballgame 8-4.

     Orix obtained a temporary edge in the bottom of the first, as the pesky centerfielder Yoshitomo Tani cracked a single to center and then went to second on a wild pitch. Second baseman Makoto Oshima sacrificed Tani to third, from where he came in on a sac fly by third baseman Scott Sheldon.

     Through four innings, Orix starter Hiroshi Kobayashi was throwing a lot of pitches but was nevertheless touched for only two singles and he didn't lose his cool with the shoddy defensive play of his teammates behind him.

     However, he seemed to tire in the fifth and was pounded for four runs. With one out, he walked leftfielder Tomichika Tsuboi. Second baseman Makoto Imaoka doubled to left to put runners at second and third. Third baseman Atsushi Kataoka singled in Tsuboi to tie it. Derrick White pinch ran for Kataoka. First baseman George Arias walked to load the bases. Rightfielder Shinjiro Hiyama singled to right to usher in Imaoka for a 2-1 lead. Centerfielder Osamu Hamanaka then ripped a double up the leftcenterfield gap to chase in White and Arias and give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. Imaoka tried to score on that hit as well and was thrown out at the plate. Kobayashi then struckout shortstop Yoshinori Okihara to finally silence the Hanshin guns.

     In that fateful sixth for Igawa, Oshima walked to lead it off. Orix rightfielder Ikuro Katsuragi singled to left. Igawa then struckout Sheldon and induced a pop out to first from Seguignol. So up came Shiozaki and there went the Hanshin lead, 4-4 after six complete.

     In the top of the seventh and with Rui Makino on the hill, Imaoka tripled over Tani's head. Taichiro Kamisaka pinch ran for Imaoka. White singled to left to plate Kamisaka  with the go ahead run. Two outs later, now with Kazuo Yamaguchi pitching for Orix, Hamanaka walked. Okihara then tripled over the head of Katsuragi and  it was 7-4 Tigers.

     Next time up, Hanshin combined a single to left by Tsuboi, an infield hit by Kamisaka and a single to right by White to make it 8-4 and that was all she wrote thanks to Moore.

     White finished 2-2 and two RBIs to jump his average to .296. Arias was 0-3 with two walks to decline to .212.

     Sheldon was 0-2 with an RBI to regress to .258. Seguignol was 0-3 to sink to backtrack to .300.

    Orix' Kobayashi went to the plate 114 times in his five inning stint, an average of almost 23 per frame. Keeping Kobayashi out there that long at this juncture of the spring may not have been a good idea.

     Hanshin starting centerfielder Norirhiro Akahoshi was 2-2 with a stolen base to raise his mark to .267. a big improvement over his rookie spring, when he struggled to hit his weight.

Cromer Homers to Bring Down Stars

     Leftfielder D.T. Cromer unloaded a three run homer off of Guzman in the sixth, his first Japan roundtripper, to help the Nippon Ham Fighters to an easy 9-2 victory over the Yokohama Bay Stars at Yokoham Stadium in front of 10,000 fans.

     The Yokohama defense took a vacation in this one, committing five miscues, one each at every infield position save pitcher plus a passed ball by catcher Yoneyama, to account for seven unearned runs. Plus third baseman Mike Gulan, aside from booting a ball, grounded into two double plays that killed off potential rallies in the second and the third. For Gulan, it was just one of those days when you want to dig a hole and hide.

     Nippon Ham was first to put a non-rounded number on the board, as rightfielder Seigo Fujishima leadoff the second with a groundball that Gulan mishandled. Two outs later, catcher Kazunari Sanematsu creamed a pitch from Bay Stars starter Shigeo Inamine into the leftfield bleachers for a 2-0 Fighters lead.

     In the bottom of the inning, leftfielder Hitoshi Nakane took out the yard implement and went to the leftfield stands to make it 2-1.

     So the subsequent half inning, Nippon Ham shortstop Hiroshi Narahara singled to left. First baseman Michihiro Ogasawara went to the rightside to try to move the runner and Nakane kicked it. DH Sherman Obando hit a grounder to Inamine, who forced Narahara at third. One out later, Fujishima singled to left and Ogasawara and Obando sprinted home to make it 4-1. However, how Obando scored is a mystery, since the log doesn't indicate any wild pitches or steals that would have enabled Obando to get into scoring position.

     The bottom of the third, the speedster Mitsuru Tanaka pinch hit and tapped a ground ball near short and beat it out for a hit. Shortstop Takuro Ishii singled to right. Tanaka and Ishii then tried to double steal, but Tanaka was shot down on the front end by Sanematsu as Ishii slid into second. Centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo singled to right to send Ishii to third. First baseman Takahiro Saeki walked to pack the sacks. Gulan sent a grounder to third that then went for a 5-4-3 double play and ended Yokohama's best scoring chance of the game.

     The top of the fourth began with second baseman Makoto Kaneko singling to center. Sanematsu sacrificed him to second. One out later, Narahara singled to right to get Kaneko across and expand the Fighters lead to 5-1.

     Sherman Obando singled to left to kick off the top of the fifth. Cromer singled to right. Fujishima singled to left to make it 6-1 Fighters.

     In the top of the sixth, centerfielder Tatsuya Ide hit a ball to Yokohama second baseman Hitoshi Taneda, who muffed it. Narahara sacrificed him to second. Ogasawara then spurted one to Ishii and he misplayed it. That's when Cromer checked in and drove a Guzman delivery into the rightcenterfield seats to lend the Fighters and eight run edge at 9-1.

     In the bottom of the ninth, Yokohama got a two out run, but that was all they could muster before backup second baseman Hirofumi Ogawa flied out to conclude things.

     Tsutomu Iwamota started for Nippon Ham and twirled six innings on 86 pitches, giving up nine hits and one earned run, walking one and striking out two.
      Narahara finished 3-3 and is now hitting .475. Obando was 1-4 to slide to .276. Cromer was 2-5 with two strikeouts and now has a .233 average.

     Gulan was 1-4 and is hitting .324. Rightfielder Boi Rodrigues was 1-3 and is swinging at a .294 rate.

Yakult Stifles Dragons on Four Hits 3-0

     31 year old southpaw Futoshi Yamabe was 16-7 for Yakult in 1995 and hasn't some close to that since, not winning anymore than seven games in a single season since in a career plagued by control problems. Now that there are a couple of openings in the rotation with the departure of Kazuhisa Ishii, the leg injury that Satoshi Iriki is suffering from right now and the horrendous spring that Hirotsugu Maeda is experiencing, he has a chance to step up again.

     Tuesday, he threw a boatload of pitches, 79 in five innings, but he shutout out the Chunichi Dragons on two hits and struckout six while
walking one in the Swallows 3-0 win. He was really in any trouble once, that being the top of the fourth, when centerfielder Toshio Haru singled to center and rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome walked with nobody out. But Yamabe then struckout DH Leo Gomez and got third baseman Tatsunami and catcher Motonobu Tanishige to hit harmless fly balls to the outfield.

     Dragons starter Makoto Kito, who was also throwing a lot of pitches, 68 in four innings, was doing a pretty decent job, but Yakult managed to scratch together a run off of him in the top of the third. With two outs, Kito walked shortstop Shinya Miyamoto. Rightfielder Atsunori Inaba, who had a double earlier, singled to left. Leftfielder Alex Ramires singled to drive in Miyamoto with what would turn out to be the only run the Swallows staff would require.

     In the bottom of the fifth, Takashi Ogasawara strolled in from the Dragons bullpen and the Swallows were able to give themselves a little more breathing room against him. With one out, Inaba and Ramirez both walked. Catcher Atsuya Furuta doubled to leftcenter to plate Inaba and it was 2-0 home folks.

     Next time up, Swallows first baseman Hirobumi Watarai tripled over the head of Fukudome and then scored one out later on a sac fly from
Takahiro Ikeyama for the game's last run.

     Scott Bullet began the game on the bench but had a late innings strikeout in his only chance and he is now hitting .105. Gomez was 0-3 with a walk to drop to .286.

     For Yakult, Ramirez was 103 with a walk as well as the RBI to improve to .205. Inaba, with his two hits and a walk in three official ups is now
at a spectacular .615.

     Roberto Petagine is going to rest his knee the rest of the exhibition schedule according to Japanese press reports in the hope that the rest will allow him to be ready for opening day.
Kintetsu Eeks Out Victory Over Seibu

     This game is a series of mixed blessings for Kintetsu. On the one hand, they managed to barely slide by Seibu and Jeremy Powell went five shutout innings. On the other, it took Powell 100 pitches and four walks to last that long. And the Buffs are still missing Norihiro Nakamura due to allergies and a painful back and the heavy hitting "itamae dasen" seems but a distant memory this spring since they aren't scoring much.

     It was 0-0 until the third, when the Buffaloes got a leadoff walk from catcher Tetsuya Matoyama. Centerfielder Naoyuki Omura then singled to center. One out later, Leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes walked to load 'em up. Third baseman Yuji Yoshioka doubled down the leftfield line to drive in two and the inning eventually ended with Kintetsu boasting a 2-0 lead.

     In the seventh, Matoyama drew a one out walk from Kenichi Toriyabe. Omura doubled up the leftcenterfield gap and Matoyama motored around to toe home plate and it was now 3-0.

     Seibu began to stir in the eighth with a triple to deep right by shortstop Kazuo Matsui. Pinch hitter Masaji Shimizu flied to right for the first Lions run.

     Shogo Yamamoto then tried to liquidate the last of the Lions in the bottom of the ninth, but got off to a bad start when third baseman Scott McClain slugged a leadoff bomb to left, but Yamamoto then tempted the Buffaloes lineup into three ground balls and it was "game setto."

     Rhodes was 0-3 with a walk to fall to .300 in four plate appearances. Nigel Wilson was 0-4 and is now hitting .214 for Kintetsu.

     Matsui was 1-4 with a pair of whiffs and is down to .308. First baseman Alex Cabrera was 0-3 with a walk and he is at .200. McClain was 2-4
to raise his average to .128.

Two Run Doubles by Nishi and Motoki Key Giants Win

     A double to to the righcenterfield gap by Yomiuri Giants second baseman Tomohisa Nishi in the fifth that drove in a pair of runs and a two bagger from shortstop Daisuke Motoki to just about the same spot an inning later for a couple more enabled Yomiuri to get off to a 4-1 lead
against the Hiroshima Carp and then hold on for a 5-3 win at Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku Tuesday.

     Yusaku Iriki started for the Giants and flailed about quite a bit in his six inning stint, throwing 117 pitches while giving up six hits and two earned runs while striking out five and walking two in getting credit for the victory.

     Neither club raised anything resembling a credible threat until Giants half of the fifth, when they were able to finally do something against
Carp starter Masayuki Hasegawa. With one out, Motoki singled to center. Catcher Yoshinori Murata singled to right. One out later, Nishi seared the extra base hit to put the Giants in the lead 2-0.

     Hiroshima then got to Iriki in the bottom of the fifth when rightfielder Takahiro Arai doubled down the leftfield line to kick the frame off. He was sacrificed to third by catcher Kazuyoshi Kimura and got home on a double over the head of rightfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi by third baseman Kenjiro Nomura to make it 2-1.

     Now we got to the top of the sixth and the Giants do it to Hasegawa again. With one out, first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara walked. He was pinch run for by Taketomi Sogawa. Third baseman Akira Etoh singled to center. One out later, Motoki found a gap in the gap and both Sogawa
and Etoh scored to expand the Giants advantage to 4-1.

     Hiroshima answered in the bottom of the stanza with a walk to centerfielder Koichi Ogata. One out later, DH Tomonori Maeda singled to right. After first baseman Luis Lopez rolled out to third, Arai dialed up a double down the leftfield line and Ogata trotted in to cut Yomiuri's lead to 4-2.

     The Giants put up an insurance run in the top of the ninth, as utility man Kenji Fukui singled to center. Daisuke Sakai balked and Fukui went to second. Catcher Murata sacrificed the runner to third  and scored on a subsequent sac fly by pinch hitter Takahiro Suzuki to make it 5-2.

     Hideki Okajima came out in the bottom of the ninth to try to save it and the Carp immediately loaded up the bases on three consecutive singles. Eddie Diaz flew out to left to plate Arai and make it 5-3. Okajima then got the next two hitters for the more exciting than manager Tatsunori Hara had in mind save. Along with Masumi Kuwata, anyone want to bet that Okajima won't be around after the end of this season?

     Rigo Beltran went a perfect 1.1 innings for Hiroshima. His spring ERA is 3.68.
Nomo, Irabu Buy Northern League Team

     According to Sports Nippon, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Makoto (Mac) Suzuki have pooled their resources to buy the Elmira Pioneers of
the independent Northern League as a way station for Japanese players who one day want to win a job in MLB. "Japanese pro baseball is in
decline," said Dan Nomura, who represents all three pitchers. "Even though the chance might be slim, we want to provide a chance [for Japanese players aspiring to the major leagues]."

     The three will reportedly hold a 51% interest in the team with the family that owned it before selling their majority share still retaining a
49% stake. Shigeki Sano, now in the Dodgers minor league system and a former Kintetsu Buffalo, Nomo's old Japanese club, reportedly kept
the three abreast of conditions in the league while they were contemplating purchasing it.

Nippon Ham Moving to Sapporo?

     According to Sports Nippon, the mayor of Sapporo, Nobuo Katsura, has revealed that he has conducted talks with the Nippon Ham
Fighters about perhaps having them move to that city, the largest on Japan's nothernmost island of Hokkaido, in 2004. A spokesman for the Fighters admitted that indeed talks are ongoing about a possible relocation.

     As it stands right now, the Fighters, once known as the Toei Flyers, have to compete in the same ballpark, Tokyo Dome, with the Yomiuri
Giants and furthermore have to deal with having the Yakult Swallows in the same city and the Seibu Lions just down the road in Tokorozawa,
Saitama Prefecture. Presumably, Nippon Ham would use Sapporo Dome as its home ballpark.

     Sapporo Dome opened in June of last season and can hold a maximum of 53,845. The baseball dimensions are approximately 330 down the
lines and 400 to center.

     Sports Nippon is also saying that Sapporo has made overtures to the Orix Blue Wave and the Yakult Swallows (say it isn't so!). Nippon Ham
may also run into some opposition from the Seibu Lions over this, but the Nippon Ham front office is hoping that they can resolve that conflict amicably.

     Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe supports the Fighters relocation, positing that "there are too many teams in the Kanto region. [The
Nippon Ham move] will be good for the game."

Is Ichiro Setting the Opposition Up?

     There's a story in Wednesday's Sports Nippon where advance scouts are reportedly scratching their heads over Ichiro's at bats in the last
couple of games. "He's normally such an aggressive hitter, why is he taking [first pitch strikes]?" wondered one Blue Jays advance scout.
Ichiro hit .442 last season when he put wood on the first pitch in an at bat and .445 when he struck one of the first two in a time up.

     Last season, Ichiro surprised Mariner coaches in the pre-season when he told them that he was setting up the other MLB teams by not turning hard on the ball, which they couldn't believe. So that has some scouts thinking that Ichiro is doing the same here, that if their teams start throwing a lot of first pitch strikes Ichiro is going to be all over them once the season begins.

     Ichiro had been over .400 almost all spring until the last three games, so maybe he is playing with their heads. I guess we fans will know when the regular season gets underway.

March 17 2002

Wada, Otomo Bomb Marines 9-2

     Superstar shortstop Kazuo Matsui was back in the lineup Sunday for the Seibu Lions and his even more popular teammate, Daisuke Matsuzaka, was on the mound starting against the Chiba Lotte Marines at Seibu Dome, but it was far lesser known players who did all the damage in the Lions 9-2 rampage through Nathan Minchey and the rest of the Marines pitching staff.

     Centerfielder Susumu Otomo, the owner of 17 lifetime homers, hit three out to right on this occasion, all solo jobs. And the equally obscure leftfielder Kazuhiro Wada cracked a three run homer to left in the bottom of the first to get things rolling and then added a third inning blast with nobody on for good measure. DH Taisei Takagi then played hammer time himself in the seventh for two more runs to complete the barrage.
     Matsuzaka didn't disappoint the home folks either, going five strong innings of two hit, one walk ball that saw him strikeout six. He was also ahead of the hitters, throwing first pitch strikes to 14 of the 17 men he faced and getting both good movement and solid command on his curve ball.

     Minchey had an excellent year in 2001 by the standards of the offense-driven Pacific League, going 12-14 in 204 innings with a 3.26 ERA for a mediocre ballclub. However, he saw four of his offerings leave the field of play in fair territory in a four inning stint in which he was shelled for six runs on seven hits.

     While the lesser knowns were doing all the damage, Matsui, first baseman Alex Cabrera and third baseman Scott McClain went 0-12 between them with one stolen base (by Matsui of course) and four strikeouts.

     Both of the Marines tallies came on a two run single by leftfielder Derrick May in the sixth inning that drove in second  baseman Tadaharu Sakai and pinch hitter Akira Otsuka, who had also singled to set the table.

     Matsuzaka hit a high of 92mph on the radar gun and said he was throwing relaxed and not letting it all hang out in order to conserve energy. Nevertheless, several of  his strikeouts came on fastballs up despite the fact that he wasn't throwing the 94-95 he is capable of. He also had the impression that the Marines batters were unprepared mentally to hit.

     According to Sports Nippon, the last time someone hit three homers in consecutive at bats in an exhibition game was in 1999, when Koichiro Yoshinaga of the Daiei Hawks (he is now with Yomiuri) did it against Yokohama.

Hoshino, Kuwata Both Spotty as Hanshin Wins Again

     First, a warning to all you Hanshin fans out there who hope that maybe they can go from worst to first this season upon seeing the way they have been racking up victories in the 2002 pre-season. I've seen years where the California (now Anaheim) Angels would tear it up in the spring and then fall on their faces once they began counting. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners had a crappy exhibition campaign in 2001 and they then went on to the ALCS. So don't get too excited yet, especially since the club isn't hitting very well.

     Sunday's faceoff between the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin at Koshien Stadium in front of 48,000 onlookers featured two veterans in the twilight of their careers in Masumi Kuwata and Nobuyuki Hoshino. Both had pretty good outings the last time they were in action after forgettable seasons last year in which they were both lucky they didn't get released. And the results for Hoshino this time were mediocre at best while Kuwata was damned lucky it wasn't worse that it actually turned out to be as Hanshin took it 4-3.

     Both teams scored in the first inning, with the visiting Giants drawing first blood. Leftfielder Takayuki Shimizu singled to left to start the game. One out later, rightfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi singled to right. After Godzilla Matsui struckout, first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara whistled a double into the leftcenterfield gap to get both Shimizu and Takahashi home for a 2-0 lead.

     The home team then took its turn, Hanshin centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi singling to left to commence the counterattack. He then stole second. Makoto Imaoka singled to center and Akahoshi wheeled on home. Third baseman Atsushi Kataoka singled to left. First baseman George Arias rolled into a 6-4-3 double play, but Shinjiro Hiyama singled to center to chase in Imaoka and equalibrium was restored at 2-2.

     In the third, Akahoshi singled to center. Imaoka sacrificed him to second. Kataoka singled to center and Hanshin was on top 3-2.

     Another inning on and with one out Kuwata plunks Osamu Hamanaka. Hamanaka took off for second on a hit and run and catcher Akihiro Yano singled to left to put Hamanaka on third. Shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto singled to right and Hamanaka is cruising for home and a 4-2 advantage. All together, Kuwata was done up for ten hits, one walk and four earned runs on 84 pitches during his five innings on the hill.

     Now the question is, could Hoshino preserve the slim edge? In the fifth, he let part of it get away. DH  Daisuke Motoki singled to center to leadoff the inning. He is erased, though how the log doesn't say (probably thrown out trying for second). One out later, Shimizu walked and was pimch run for by Takahiro Suzuki. Hoshino threw a wild pitch and Suzuki trotted into second. Second baseman Tomohisa Nishi singled to center and it's 4-3.

     From there, four other Hanshin relievers supressed the Giants order on just two hits over the next four innings to secure the win.

     Derrick White started at DH for Hanshin and went 1-4 to get to .240. Arias went 0-4 and is hitting .233.

     It looks like there has been a change of heart on sending rookie Hiroki Sanada to the minors. He threw a perfect inning Sunday and questions about the recent health and performance by members of the pitching staff have prompted mamager Tatsunori Hara to all but guarentee the 18 year old a roster spot, the first time in 36 years a rookie hurler out of high school has started the regular season with Yomiuri. The last gentleman to accomplish that was Tsuneo Horiuchi, who went 16-2 with a 1.39 ERA in 1966. Horiuchi won 203 games against 139 losses in 18 years and an  ERA of 3.27, so those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Horiuchi's best season was in 1972, when he went 26-9 with a 2.91 ERA in 312 innings.

Gulan's Two Homers and Six RBIs Skin Buffaloes

     Mike Gulan had the best day of his fledgling Japanese career Sunday against the Kintetsu Buffaloes at Osaka Dome, rifling two homers, a double and a single in four trips to the plate for a total of six RBIs as the Yokohama Bay Stars laid waste to the 2001 PL champs 11-3.

     Yokohama got busy rightaway in the top of the first, as shortstop Takuro Ishii leadoff the game with a walk off of Kintetsu starter Sean Bergman. Centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo sacrificed Ishii to second. One out later, third baseman Gulan came up and went what the Japanese announcer would have called "center backscreen" on a fastball on the inner half of the plate for a two run Yokohama lead.

     In the bottom of the inning, Kintetsu centerfielder Naoyuki Omura started his team's half with a ringing double down the rightfield line. Second baseman Eiji Mizuguchi grounded out to first and Omura moved on over to third. Tuffy Rhodes went back up the middle for the RBI and it was 2-1 after one complete. The "timely" hit by Rhodes was the first knock with a runner in scoring position for Kintetsu in 71 innings, according to Sankei Sports, an amazing stat that also showcases why Kintetsu has the worst record of all 12 Japanese pro teams so far this season. In 12 games, the Buffs have produced just 36 runs.

     Yokohama starter Daisuke Miura loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the third by permitting singles to catcher Kenji Furukubo and Omura and walking Rhodes. Third baseman Norihiro Nakamura flew out to center and Furukubo tagged up to try to score, but was shot down by Kinjo to conclude the inning.

     A half inning later,the Stars went to work again, with Gulan hammering a double to leftcenter. Boi Rodriguez flew out to his opposite number in right for the first out. First baseman Hiroo Ishii doubled down the leftfield line and it was 3-1 Yokohama. Second baseman Hirofumi Ogawa flew out to right, but then catcher Ryoji Aikawa singled to left for a 4-1 lead.

      Takuro Ishii collected his first of two hits leading off the fifth and leftfielder Takanori Suzuki was hit by a Bergman offering one out later. Ishii and Aikawa worked the double steal successfully. Gulan then singled to left to pick up two more RBIs and open a 6-1 Yokohama edge.

     Leftfielder Hitoshi Nakane leadoff the seventh with a double to the wall in right and Yokohama was back in business. Suzuki slapped a grounder to Abe, who kicked it. Gulan went backscreen again off of a slider on the outer half of the plate and the rout was REALLY on, 9-1 Stars.

     Brain cancer survivor Koki Morita entered the game for Kintetsu and got no sympathy from Yokohama in the eighth. Hiroo Ishii leadoff with a double to rightcenter. Nakane moved him to third with a groundball to second. DH Hitoshi Taneda singled to center for another Stars run. Pinch hitter Takahiro Saeki walked. Sub rightfielder Kazunori Tanaka singled to center and Taneda came around to make it 11-1.

     Kintetsu scored a meaningless run in the bottom of the ninth before Kenshi Kawaguchi struckout against Takashi Saito to put this baby to bed.

     Miura went five innings on 81 pitches, being shaken down for four hits and an earned run, walking two and striking out three.

     Rhodes was 1-2 with a walk in three appearances to elevate his average to .333. Nigel Wilson started at DH and went 1-4 with three strikeouts. He is now at .300. Bergman was charged with six earned runs on seven hits in his five innings.

     Gulan's 4-4 raised his average to .333. Unlike most foreign players, Gulan, after he was signed, asked to participate in the Stars fall camp. So if
he fails, it won't be for a lack of effort. Manager Masaki Mori remarked on how it seems that Gulan is finally getting acclimatized to Japanese baseball. Certainly, if he can produce it will really perk up the Stars offense.

Nomura and His Successor Leave Daiei Short

     At 35 and having given up his shortstop position in favor of the younger, though less accomplished, Akihiro Higashide, Hiroshima Carp
third baseman Kenjiro Nomura now seems to have something to prove with every new season. Once one of the few players in Japanese history
to have slugged 30 homers and stolen more than 30 bases while batting .300 (1995), he was the Kazuo Matsui of a slightly earlier time. In fact, when I was in Japan in 1993 and went to a Yakult-Hiroshima faceoff at grand old Meiji Jingu Stadium, one of my Japanese friends asked me who were the players on the two teams I was most intertested in seeing. Of course, Nomura's name was one of the first that came out of my mouth. He is now fighting injuries and age to see how far he can hold out before he decides to call it a career. But as Sunday's tilt with the Daiei Hawks at Kure demonstrated, the wily lefthanded hitting Nomura isn't ready to concede anything to anyone.

     In the bottom of the first, Nomura leadoff with a single to center. Higashide singled to right. Two outs later,  there's a single to left from DH Tomonori Maeda, but there was an out made in this at bat, so I'm guessing that Nomura was pegged out at the plate by Pedro Valdez.

     In the second, though, Nomura played a key role in getting Hiroshima it's first runs of the game. First baseman Luis Lopez beat out a ball near second for a hit. Two outs later, centerfielder Takuya Kimura laced a double down the rightfield line to put men on second and third. That brought up Nomura, who delivered a clutch two run single to center to make it 2-0 Carp.

     Daiei third baseman Hiroki Kokubo got the Hawks back to within one with a longball to left off of a "shuuto" from Hiroshima starter Yasushi Tsuruda, but the Carp got an infield hit from Kimura and a two run dong from Higashide to right to open a 4-1 lead in the fifth.

     And the infield hits just kept on coming, as Maeda, bad legs and all, outran a grounder. He was pinch run for by Kojiro Machida. The Hawks rookie Tetsu Yofu tried to pick Machida off and threw it away, allowing Machida to get to second. Yofu then balked to put Machida on third. Lopez stepped in and  lifted a fly ball to Valdez that was deep enough to score Machida and now Daiei needed a granny just to tie.

     Yofu came out for the seventh and Takahiro Arai crushed one off of him completely out of the ballpark to make it 6-1. Arai now leads all hitters this pre-season in RBIs with 14 and is tied with Godzilla for most homers with five while batting .366.

     Rob Stanifer emerged out of the Hiroshima pen for the eighth and retired the side "sansha bontai (three up, three down)." Then Yasuhiro Oyamada, who has been a real busy boy this spring, did likewise in the ninth to save it. Stanifer's ERA went down to 9.00.

     Rodney Pedraza threw in this one for Daiei and carved up the Carp on six pitches in a perfect inning.

     Maeda finished 2-3 and is hitting .750 in just a few total at bats. If only he could remain healthy over the course of an entire season.

     Morgan Burkhart started at first Sunday for the Hawks and went 1-3 with two strikeouts to raise his average to .270. Valdes was 0-4 to fall to

Bunch Gives Fighters a Melvin

     Melvin Bunch had a strong outing Sunday for the Chunichi Dragons, giving up two runs on four hits and a walk in six innings in a 6-2 defeat of the Nippon Ham Fighters at Tokyo Dome.

     The Dragons got in front in the top of the first, when rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome blasted a Tsuyoshi Shimoyamagi offering into the rightfield seats.

     Nippon Ham pulled back alongside Chunichi in the bottom of the same inning when centerfielder Tatsuya Ide doubled down the rightfield line, was sacrificed to third and then scored on a groundball to third from DH Sherman Obando.

     First baseman Leo Gomez cannonaded a one out homer to left, though, to get the Dragons ahead again in the top of the fourth, but Ide
imitated Gomez for Nippon Ham and it was deadlocked at 2-2.

     In the top of the sixth, centerfielder Toshio Haru singled to left. Fukudome blazed a shot off the rightfield wall to put runners on second and third. Gomez spanked a single to center to plate Haru and Fukudome and it was 4-2 visitors.

     Yasuaki Taiho, who filled in for Gomez, then gave the Dragons a little more wiggle room when he followed on the heels of a double to leftcenter from backup rightfielder Jun Inoue with a two run jack into the leftcenterfield bleachers off of Tomokazu Iba to fatten their advantage to 6-2. Takashi Ogasawara then put the Fighters down in order to clinch the W.

Yarnell Outstanding But Loses 2-1 to Swallows

     Ed Yarnell had his best performance of the spring Sunday at Kobe Green Stadium against the Yakult Swallows, but it was the Swallows
who got the right kind of hits and outs to squeek by the Orix Blue Wave 2-1 behind a very good Shugo Fujii outing.

     In the bottom of the second, Orix blew a one out, men on second and third opportunity when Fujii struckout the next two men.

     The game remained scoreless until the top of the fifth, when Yakult produced the first run of the match. Third baseman Akinori Iwamura
boomed a double to deep center to lead things off. First baseman Hirobumi Watarai went to the rightside with a grounder to move Iwamura up
90 feet. Second baseman Noriyuki Shiroishi then came up with a sac fly to center and it was 1-0 Swallows.

     In the top of the seventh, catcher Tomohito Yoneno and Iwamura both singled to right to start the inning., Yoneno speeding into third. Watarai flew out to right to enable Yakult to go up 2-0.

     Orix finally broke the shutout in the bottom of the eighth. rookie centerfielder Takashi Hida hit a bouncer toward short that he legged out. Two outs later, DH Yasuo Fujii walked. First baseman Manabu Satake doubled to right to drive in Hida. But third baseman Kazuhiko Shiotani flied out to put the kabosh on the rally.

     Tomokazu Teramura then came in and got a groundball and a couple of whiffs to finish Orix off for the 2-1 victory.

     For Orix, first baseman Scott Sheldon was 0-2 to fall to .276. DH Fernando Seguignol was 2-3 to elevate his average to .333. Seguignol's bad
glove is causing Orix management to comtemplate putting the former Expo in the outfield.

     Yarnell's pitching line read, six innings on 82 pitches, giving up three hits and a run while walking two and striking out three.

     Yakult leftfielder Alex Ramirez was 0-4 and is now hitting .195. This caused manager Tsutomu Wakamatsu to personally give Ramirez some
batting instruction Monday. "When he turns on the ball, his body is too tight," offered Wakamatsu, one of Japan's best ever batsman when
he was an active player.

 MLB Scouts: Godzilla May be More Suited to the Infield

     Citing his average speed and below average arm for the position, MLB scouts are already discussing where they should move Yomiuri Giants centerfielder Hideki Matsui if he does indeed choose to sign with a big league ballclub, according to Chunichi Sports. "His future is in left," says Braves scout Hiroyuki Ohya, but others are proposing making him either a first or a third baseman. Matsui hits lefthanded but throws
righthanded. "His fielding is perhaps major league quality," said one unnamed scout, but throwing is a problem area." Matsui was also clocked by scouts going from home to first in 4.1-4.2 seconds, which is nothing special. Ohya is optimistic, however, that Matsui can adjust to MLB
pitching. He certainly has the bat speed for it, a point which just about every observer has agreed on. But it looks like the scouts are confirming
my suspicion that Matsui's upside in MLB is as a Henry Rodriguez clone, except he'll strikeout less.

Sachi Nomura May Get Two Years in Tax Evasion Scandal

     Sachie Nomura, a tv personality and the wife of Hall of Fame catcher and former Nankai Hawks, Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers manager Katsuya Nomura, was indiceted last year on charges of attempting to conceal in excess of $4 million in income accrued during the 1990's and thus escaping more than $1 million in taxes owed. The tax scandal played a role in Hanshin's firing of Katsuya Nomura. See Japan
Times article at:

     Sachie Nomura has long been a controversial figure in Japanese baseball as well as in the celebrity sphere, a kind of Leona Helmsley-like figure. Marty Kuehnert did a scathing article on the whole Sachie saga last winter for the Japan Times, which you can view at:


     I would like to send my condolences to the family of Royals outfielder Chuck Knoblauch, whose father  Ray died at age 74 of Alzheimer's Disease. Ray Knoblauch was a Texas high school baseball coach.


March 15 2002

Carp Flog Giants with Five Homers

     It looks like it was Hiroshima's turn to hold on to the whooping stick, as they hammered five homers, two of them by first baseman Takahiro Arai, off of the Yomiuri Giants in a game in Gifu Prefecture in front of 21,000 to romp 11-2.

     Starting for the Giants was Korean righty Chung Min-tae and he knew it was going to be a rough day from the time he faced the first hitter, third baseman Kenjiro Nomura, who hit a rocket into the rightfield seats to begin the game. Two outs later, Arai crushed the first of his pair of jacks to left and when the inning ended it was 2-0 Carp.

     In the bottom of the frame and with one away, the Giants got consecutive singles from second baseman Tomohisa Nishi, rightfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi and centerfielder Hideki Matsui to load the bases. After first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara struckout, third baseman Akira Etoh singled to left to get both Nishi and Takahashi in to knot it at 2-2.

     The Carp took some time before reloading and splattering the field with more shots to score three runs in the third. With two gone, shortstop Akihiro Higashide singled to left. Second baseman Eddie Diaz walked. Arai then did some yardwork in the leftfield bleachers to open a 5-2 advantage for Hiroshima.

     That's the way it remained until the seventh, when Taka Miura came in and the Carp lineup went to town on him. Outfielder Takuya Kimura hit a ball to Taketomi Sogawa at short that Sogawa muffed. Substitute first baseman Shigenobu Shima singled to left. Higashide singled to right to chase in Kimura. Diaz flew to left to plate another run then Arai, now playing third, doubled down the leftfield line. DH Itsuki Asai dialed long distance to rightcenter for three more runs and now Hiroshima is up 10-2. Kimura then tacked another one in the eighth with a drive out to centerfield to complete the day's fireworks.

     Because of the Sogawa error, only one of the five runs Miura surrendered was earned. Jobe is still unscored on for Yomiuri. And Chung's getting so beat up, somethung he blamed on throwing too many hittable sliders, is likely to result in him opening the regular season in the minors, according to Nikkan Sports.

     Rigo Beltran tossed a three up three down inning for Hiroshima to lower his ERA to 4.50.

     With his four RBIs Friday, Arai has 13 on the spring, which is tops among all batters this spring.

Terahara Dominates Blue Wave

     In the best performance of his pro career to date, 18 year old righthanded phenom Hayato Terahara threw three sparkling innings of one hit shutout ball at the end of the ballgame to finish off the Orix Blue Wave in Daiei's 4-2 triumph at Green Stadium Kobe Friday.

     There are two things about this performance that will bode will for the youngster if he can keep it up. First, he had outstanding command of his curve ball. Secondly, he was getting hitters out early in the count, having to throw to the plate a measly 25 times during his stint. He only struckout one, but in handling a young pitcher, it's a good idea to limit as much as possible the innings they throw and restrict their pitch counts lest they become another Frank Tanana or Don Gullet, guys who went too many innings too early and paid the price for it. Terahara now has a spring ERA of 0.82 and he hasn't even started unleashing the kind of gas he is capable of.

     Will Terahara make the big club? With a medicore pitching rotation, manager Sadaharu Oh may have no choice but to at least use him in a relief role.

     Getting to the game itself, Daiei broke out on top in the second inning when, with one out, Hawks first baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka singled to right. Catcher Kenji Johjima singled to center. Rightfielder Koji Akiyama beat out a little ground ball near the mound. DH Morgan Burkhart hammered an Aiki delivery to the wall in left to get both runners across and a 2-0 Daiei lead.

     In the bottom of the inning, Kazuhiko Shiotani homered to left off of starter Kenichi Wakatabe to halve the gap between the Blue Wave and the Hawks to 2-1.

     Daiei responded with another tally in the top of the third. With one down, second baseman Tadahito Iguchi singled to right. Third baseman Hiroki Kokubo grounded to short, the play going to first while Iguchi ended up on second. Matsunaka stepped up and lasered a two bagger off the rightfield wall and it was now 3-1 Hawks.

     In the bottom of THAT inning, Orix answered with a a solo homer to left by first baseman Fernando Seguignol, who was hitting lefthanded.

     Thanks to Terahara and two other relievers, the score stood still until the top of ninth, when back to back doubles from centerfielder Hiroshi Shibahara and pinch hitter Noriyoshi Omichi resulted in the fourth Hawk run. Utility man Mitsuru Honma singled to right, but Omichi could only get as far as third before Blue Wave hurler Fumiaki Imamura struckout second string catcher Koji Bonishi to end the inning. Two fly balls to center and a grounder to second then gave Terahara his first save.

     Matsunaka, the 2000 Pacific League MVP, went 2-3 to go up to .550. Morgan Burkhart, hitting in the number eight hole, was 1-4 with an RBI and two strikeouts to keep his .250 average. Leftfielder Pedro Valdez was 0-3 to drop to .166.

     It was feast or famine for Seguignol, as he whiffed in his other two at bats to rise to .291. That dinger was his third.

Nomura Outpitches Kawajiri in 4-0 Yokohama Win

     You gotta give Tetsuro Kawajiri a lot of credit. With all the wrangling over his wanting to go to the majors and Hanshin's refusal to allow that to happen, he could have just said, "screw it," and started intentionally hanging pitches all over the place so that the team would almost be forced to release him. But he has been rock solid to this point, though Friday's faceoff with the Yokohama Bay Stars demonstrates that merely solid sometimes doesn't get it.

     Hiroki Nomura went five strong scoreless innings for Yokohama at Koshien Stadium in Osaka, Hanshin's homeground, scattering four hits, striking out two and walking one.

     Kawajiri threw fewer pitches than Nomura did, but he made a costly mistake on one of them in the second. Following a single to center by rightfielder Boi Rodrigues, second baseman Hirofumi Ogawa came up and mortared a bomb into the leftfield bleachers for a 2-0 Yokohama lead.

     Hanshin had its greatest threat in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, outfielder Osamu Hamanaka doubled down the leftfield line. Catcher Ryo Yoshimoto then singled to right, but Hamanaka held up at third. Centerfielder Taichiro Kamisaka rolled out to the pitcher for the second out. Second baseman Makoto Imaoka walked to load the bases, but then shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto flied out to end the Tigers best scoring threat.

     In the top of the seventh, Rodrigues leadoff with a gapper to leftcenter off of Buddy Carlyle and cruised into second. First baseman Takahiro Saeki then two bagged a Carlyle pitch off the wall in right for a three run lead. After a groundout to second that moved Saeki up a base, catcher Ryoji Aikawa singled to center to drive Saeki in and the inning ended with Yokohama boasting a 4-0 edge. Guzman hit the hill in the ninth, put the Tigers to sleep, and it was all over.

     Once again, Carlyle, who gave up two earned runs in two innings, isn't having a very good spring. There is some talk of taking him out of the starting rotation, especially since Moore is looking ready to step into that role. However, Moore being in a starter's role hurts the club's middle relief. And Carlyle doesn't have the kind of command that would be ideal for a middle reliever or set up man. Neither does Fukuhara, who is out until the beginning of the April at least. So we'll have to see how manager Senichi Hoshino deals with Carlyle. Moreover, given the problems with Narimoto, unless he just suddenly becomes invincible, it's not even certain that Narimoto will open the regualr schedule with the Tigers. Is a return of Greg Hansell in the offing?

     Mike Gulan started the game at third for Yokohama and went 0-4 to sink his average to .217. Rodrigues was 2-3 to go to .304.

     Kind of a curious decision by Stars manager Masaki Mori in putting the far superior defensively Mitsuru Tanaka at DH and Boi Rodrigues, who had been bothered by some leg problems this spring, in right.

      George Arias and Derrick White both went 0-4 and are hitting .291 and .200 respectively.

Can Somebody Pitch Here? Yakult Beats Kintetsu, But it isn't Pretty

     Nine times out of ten, the club that throws the most pitches over about 130 in a game loses. And when you combine that with being outhomered your chances of prevailing are even smaller. Well, so much for that theory. Yakult Swallows hurlers went home 155 times while those of the Kintetsu Buffaloes did so on a comparitively economical 133 occasions. And Kintetsu outbashed the Yakult offense 3-2 in longballs. And yet, it was the 2002 Japan champion Swallows that took this exhibition of the damned 6-4 at Osaka Dome Friday.

     So let's cut to the chase so we can put this one behind us as quickly as possible, shall we? Hiroshi Takamura was nominated by Buffs boss Masataka Nishida to be the first man the Swallows lineup saw in this one. And Takamura did an admirable job--- for two hitters. Then he laid in a nice fat one to rightfielder Atsunori Inaba and Inaba killed it, lashing it into the rightfield stands to put his side up 1-0.

     But Yakult starter Hirotsugu Maeda has been pretty much stinking it up this spring and it wasn't long before Kintetsu was heard from. In the bottom of the second inning, DH Yuji Yoshioka lead off with a grounder out toward short that he beat out for a hit. First baseman Kenshi Kawaguchi rolled to short to force Yoshioka. Then Maeda selected from the category "Gopher Balls" for 400 feet and watched as centerfielder Fumitoshi Takano's shot dissappeared over the centerfield fence never to be seen again except by the friends and relatives of the fan who snagged it. Effect: Kintetsu taking a 2-1 lead.

     Maeda actually made it through the third inning with nobody scoring, but by that time he had already thrown 49 pitches and Yakult manager Tsutomu Wakamatsu cast about for something better, so in comes Masanori Ishikawa, who is mugged for four hits and a solo homer over his three innings.

     Anyway, in the fourth, Yakult caught up with Kintetsu. Inaba tripled to the centerfield wall. Leftfielder Alex Ramirez, in the only time he didn't strikeout in his four plate appearances, lifted a sac fly to right to even it at two apiece. Then with two out in the fifth, Yakult infielder Takahiro Ikeyama jumped on Takamura and rode one of his pitches to the leftfield seats for the lead.

      Unfortunately, in the bottom of the sixth, Kintetsu's Yoshioka homered off of Ishikawa to once again tie it up. So exit Ishikawa and enter Tatsuki Yamamoto for the seventh, who promptly needs to ask for a new baseball upon making a pitch to Kitagawa, who plays permanent keepaway to the righthand side for what would prove to be a temporary 4-3 lead. Yamamoto then sees that new ball get aquainted with the leftfield wall for a triple. Yamamoto struckout the next man to end the Kintetsu rally.

     In the top of the eighth and with one away, DH Tetsuya Iida and Centerfielder Mitsuru Manaka singled off of Ken Kadokura. One out later, Inaba doubled off of the leftfield wall to get both Manaka and Iida in to seize a 5-4 lead. And for good measure, they picked Kadokura's pocket in the ninth as well, using a triple to rightcenter from Noriyuki Shiroishi to push catcher Kosei Ono, who had doubled to kick the inning off, home for a vital insurance run, 6-4 Swallows.

     Tadashi Honma closed it out, but not without some tension engendered when the firsr pair of Buffaloes batsman reached on a walk and a single before he found his rhythm and took down the next three on a groundout and a couple of popups to second.

     Wakamatsu saw Shugo Fujii get his head handed to him in his last start and Maeda's malady continues. No wonder some managers get ulcers. At least Wakamatsu can take heart that Fujii's poor showing was an aberration. Maeda ha chotto....

     Yakult did get a pleasant bit of news, though, about Roberto Petagine's sprained knee. He will probably be able to start with the club when the regular season opens. That will help everybody in the top half of that lineup considerably. Now let's pray that Inaba can stay healthy.

     Even if he had a largely bad day at the plate, Ramirez at least drove in a run. He is now at .242.

     For Kintetsu, leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes went 0-2 to backtrack to .363.

Etoh Rape Case Was Frame Up

     Around the time of the 2001 Japan Series, Yomiuri Giants third baseman Akira Etoh was accused by a Miyazaki, Miyazaki Prefecture woman of rape, but when the facts came to light it turned out that the woman and a thug from one of Japan's rightwing political groups, almost all of which have ties to the Yakuza, were trying to blackmail Etoh, asking for tens of thousands of dollars to keep the liason with the woman a secret. When he told her what she could do with that idea, the woman then complained to local police.

     The rightwing extortionist was given a one year jail sentence this week.

March 16 2002

Seelbach Proves Double Play is Indeed Pitcher's Best Friend

     Nippon Ham hurler Chris Seelbach allowed the leadoff man to reach in five of his six innings against the Chunichi Dragons Saturday, but then induced the succeeding hitters to hit a ground ball that went for a twin killing in four of  those frames to keep the Dragons from being
able to mount a real scoring threat in the Fighters 8-0 whitewash at Tokyo Dome.

     Nippon Ham got theri leadoff batter on in the bottom of the first when centerfielder Ide scorched a ball up the leftcenterfield gap for a double. One out later, first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara singled to right and then DH Sherman Obando doubled down the leftfield line to plate Ide and the Fighters were in front 1-0.

     The very next inning, Nippon Ham's rightfielder, Fujishima,  jerked a Masahiro Yamamoto offering over the wall in left and it was 2-0 Fighters.
     Yamamoto was coming off an injury and was obviously not sharp, as he was abused again in the third. Ide kicked the frame off with a roller
that was too slow for second baseman Masahiro Araki to get to before Ide reached first.  Ogasawara seared a ball over the head of Dragons centerfielder Scott Bullet for an RBI double. Obando followed with a single to left and the Nippon Ham advantage had now been doubled to 4-0.
     In the fifth, with Shinichiro Koyama on the mound, the Fighters got a double to the centerfield wall from shortstop Hiroshi Narahara, prompting Dragons manager Hisashi Yamada to remove Koyama and replace him with Shigetoshi Yamakita to face Ogasawara. Ogasawara promptly banged an RBI single to left to expand the gap between the two clubs to five. Later in the inning, leftfielder D.T. Cromer rapped a single to right to get Ogasawara in, 6-0 Nippon Ham. From there, the Fighters added two more in the seventh for the final margin of victory. Pat Flury then closed it out, but not before walking a man, hitting another and throwing 29 pitches.

     Ogasawara finished 3-3 and is now hitting at a .533 clip. Obando was 2-3 to elevate his mark to .318 and Cromer was 1-3 and is presently at .227.

     For the Dragons, Bullet had a double in three at bats to improve to .085. Closer Eddie Gaillanrd had a seven pitch eighth to knock down the
Fighters in order.

Hodges Fights Himself and Tigers Take Advantage

     Former Mariners righthander Kevin Hodges doesn't have what one would call pinpoint control, but he is a battler with a truckload of heart. In his start Saturda against Hanshin at Koshien Stadium, Hodges walked four and threw 101 pitches in five innings, but gave up just four hits, three of them singles, to limit the damage to three earned runs.

     For Hanshin, starter Shinji Taninaka didn't have his best stuff, either, being touched for four runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk in a
93 pitch six inning effort and left the game behind 4-3 before a five run Tigers rally against Shinji Matsuda in the bottom of the eighth saw Hanshin catch and speed past Yakult for an 8-4 Tigers victory.

      Hodges' troubles began in the bottom of the first inning, when Hanshin centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi slapped a one out single to left.
Hodges then walked both third baseman Atsushi Kataoka and first baseman George Arias to load the bases. Rightfielder Shinjiro Hiyama then
sent a fly ball to Mitsuru Manaka in center for a sac fly and a 1-0 Hanshin lead.

     In the bottom of the third, Hiyama unleashed a screamer down the leftfield line for a double to leadoff the inning. Akahoshi moved Hiyama to third with a groundball to first and then Kataoka redeemed Hiyama with a fly to Alex Ramirez in left and Hanshin was up 2-0.

     In the bottom of the fourth, Hodges nailed DH Hamanaka with a one out delivery. Leftfielder Tomochika Tsuboi whakced a single to right and Hamanaka made the turn and was in safely at third. Asai lifted a ball to right and Hamanaka came in with his team's third tally.

     The Swallows finally got to Taninaka with one gone in the top of the sixth. DH Takahiro Ikeyama walked. Manaka and shortstop Shinya
Miyamoto both singled to left to pack the sacks. Rightfielder Atsunori Inaba chipped in a single to center and Manaka and Miyamoto hit the dish for the first pair of Swallows runs. One out later, catcher Kosei Ono rolled to shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto, who booted it. Third baseman Akinori Iwamura singled to right for two more and Yakult had a momentary 4-3 lead.

     In the bottom of the eighth, Matsuda got Tanaka to groundout to short to start the inning, but then couldn't get anyone else until it was
too late. First, he plunked Arias with a pitch. Pinch hitter Derrick White tattooed one down the leftfield line to put men on second and third. Hamanaka then made it to first on an infield hit around third and the bags were filled. Yagi doubled down the leftfield line to get Arias and White in to get back ahead 5-4. Backup shortstop Okihara then found a double at the gap in rightcenter to chase in Hamanaka and Yagi. One
out later, Imaoka singled to center and it was 8-4 Hanshin.

     Tigers manager Senichi Hoshino then said "tanomu zo (I'm counting on you)" to Mark Valdez, who got the final three outs, though in the process he hit Ono and first baseman Hirobumi Watarai.

     Ramirez went 0-4 to decline to .216. Atsuya Furuta started the game at catcher and was 0-2. With Furuta's bad knee, it's going to be hard
for Wakamatsu to get the future Hall of Famer consistent spring at bats.

     Alan Newman threw an inning, giving up one hit and striking out three. He is still unscored upon this spring and is making a strong case
for a rotation spot, especially in light of Hirotsugu Maeda's dismal early start. Hodges, even with Saturday's shaky outing, has an ERA of 2.70.
Nice to see closer Shingo Takatsu coming out to play, and he pitched a flawless inning.

     Arias was 0-2 with two walks for the Tigers and is at .269. White, after getting the baseknock, stayed in the game and finished in left. He is
at .238.

Hawks Eat Carp Alive 10-4

     The way the Daiei Hawks were bouncing hits around Hiroshima Municipal Stadium Saturday, you would have thought it was a pinball
machine and not a ballpark. Even normally lighthitting shortstop Yusuke Torigoe had three hits and an RBI among the total of 15 safeties the Daiei lineup dropped in in their 10-4 romp.

     The main victim of this barrage was Hiroshima's number one starter, Shinji Sasaoka, who saw everything he threw get pounded in his four
innings, being shaken down for seven hits and seven earned runs while walking four and striking out none. to balloon his ERA to 9.00.

     Carp starter Kuroda was doing a pretty good job in the early going, stranding Daiei centerfielder Hiroshi Shibahara, who had a leadoff
double to the leftfield wall and then allowing only a two out sibgle to rightfielder Koji Akiyama with two out in the second.

     Meanwhile, in the bottom of the second, Hiroshima's offense made an early impact. DH Tomonori Maeda walked to begin things. One out later, speedy outfielder Koichi Ogata doubled to deep left. And one out after that, centerfielder Takuya Kimura cascaded a two bagger to the
gap in rightcenter to score both Maeda and Ogata and give Hiroshima a 2-0 lead.

     In the fourth, though, Daiei's attack kicked into gear. With one away, first baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka went yard to rightcenter. Catcher
Kenji Johjima almost hit it out as well, but ultimately settled for a double off the centerfield wall. Akiyama singled to center. Noriyoshi Omichi
grounded to first to move Johjima to third. Torigoe singled to drive in Johjima and knot it up at 2-2. Shibahara then legged out a grounder to
second and Akiyama crossed the plate for the 3-2 lead.

     Sasaoka acended the hill for the fifth and the Hawks pounced immediately. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi walked. Third baseman Hiroki Kokubo singled to center. Matsunaka also worked a free pass to load the bases. Johjima then spanked a single to center to move both Iguchi
and Kokubo homeward and it's 5-2 Hawks. Akiyama walked to pack the sacks once more. Omichi then outran a dribbler to short and both
Matsunaka and Johjima were somehow plated. Torigoe singled to center for his squad's eighth run and leftfielder Pedro Valdez singled to center
one out later for a couple more to make it 10-2 Hawks. Pinch hitter  Morgan Burkhart doubled to leftcenter, but him and Valdez were stranded when the next two hitters couldn't get the ball out of the infield.

     During Hiroshima's ups in the fifth, they combined a two out single by shortstop Akihiro Higashide, a walk to Eddie Diaz and a double down
the rightfield line by leftfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto to get one of those runs back, the scoreboard now reading 10-3.

     In the bottom of the eighth, Ogata cranked a one out homer to left to make it 10-4 and that was all she wrote, since the Carp couldn't get
much else going.

     Erik Schullstrom pitched the top of the ninth for Hiroshima and struckout the side ("sansha sanshin" in Japanese).

     Sasaoka, after the nightmare fifth, did settle down and had the Daiei hitters pounding the ball into the ground over the next three frames. Talk
about a Jekyll-Hyde outing.
     Caldez was 2-4 to raise his average to .200. Burkhart stayed in the game and played first, finishing 1-2 to go up to .264.
Uehara Superb as Giants Slip by Buffaloes

     Since he won 20 games as a rookie three years ago, Koji Uehara, who could have been an Anaheim Angel if he had taken
their offer, has been dogged by injuries. He's been throwing pretty well this spring and if he can refrain from getting hurt could
once again prove why deserves to be the club's number one starter.

     Saturday at Osaka Dome in front of a 48,000 strong crowd, Uehara went six strong innings on just 72 pitches, allowing a mere two hits to the
mighty Buffaloes order and walking none while whiffing four to reduce his pre-season ERA to 0.82 in Yomiuri's 4-2 win.

     Uehara was then substituted for John Wasdin, who gave Yomiuri and inning of ten pitch perfect relief before conceding the mound to

     Katsuhiko Maekawa started for the home team and got behind before the seats were even warm, leadoff hitter Takayuki Shimizu scalding a triple down the rightfield line and then coming home on a sac fly by shortstop Daiuske Motoki. After Maekawa then fanned the next two batters, third baseman Akira Etoh doubled to the wall in center, where it was misplayed by Koichi Isobe for an error and permitted the heavy footed Etoh to circle the bases to make it 2-0.

     In the fourth, Etoh doubled down the leftfield line to leadoff the inning. Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe sacrificed him to third. Utility man
Kenji Fukui, who is having a fine spring, then brought Etoh home with a sacrifice fly to right.

     Uehara got the first ten men he faced in the game until a fourth inning single to right by second baseman Eiji Mizuguchi, who was promptly liquidated on a double play ball tapped to second by leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes.

     Yomiuri added its final tally of the contest in the fifth by converting a one out Shimizu single, a ground ball that moved the runner up, and a
singled by rightfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi to widen their advantage to 4-0.

     Etoh has been called by the Japanese press, "natsu no otoko," that is, "a boy of summer" since he tends to hit better when the weather
heats up. However, he is haveing a decent spring, batting .257 even though the highs in Japan right now are in the 40's and 50's.

     Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, in the wake of Uehara's and Wasdin's work, then had Hideki Okajima enter the game and he did not aquit himself well, especially considering that he was last year's closer. With one out, Yoshioka walked. One out later, shortstop Masahiro Abe took Okajima on a tour of a bad neighborhood, i.e., the leftfield bleachers, to cut the Yomiuri lead to 4-2. That was Abe's second homer of the spring.

     Kintetsu then was able to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth with two outs, but this year's closer, Junichi Kawahara, blew away Igarashi to put the game into the books.

     Rhodes was 0-3 to cool down to .320.

Lotte Outpitches Seibu 2-0

     Four Chiba Lotte Marines hurlers limited the Seibu Lions lineup to only two singles and got an RBI double from DH Frank Bolick and an RBI single from leftfielder Derrick May to prevail 2-0 Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium.

     Marines starter Kosuke Kato was almost perfect in his five innings, surrendering a leadoff single in the first from Lions shortstop Hiroaki Ueda and that was all. His pitch count was an excellent 56. Kato now has a spring ERA of 0.82

     Koji Mitsui wasn't quite as precise, throwing 86 pitches and walking two while allowing four hits, but he also coughed up
a mere one run to make his spring ERA 1.00. Now the question is, can he keep it up? During his rookie season last year, he
had an ERA of 5.22.

     Kazuo Matsui did not play in this game for Seibu.

Turman Blanks Blue Wave

     In his most impressive effort of the spring, ex-Mariner Jason Turman twirled five shutout innings of two hit ball (both doubles) against the Orix Blue Wave Saturday, striking out three and walking none in a 5-0 triumph. The only problem with Turman was that his pitch count, 82, was higher than it really needed to be, so he needs to work on putting hitters away earlier in the count, especially since he isn't a power pitcher.

     Yokohama went ahead in the first, when first baseman Takahiro Saeki doubled to rightcenter and then was ushered in by a Mike Gulan single to center, the inning ending with the Bay Stars up 1-0 to stay.

     Orix starter Ogura injured himself in the second inning, so in the third, rookie Takuji Yamamoto replaced him and was rudely welcomed by the Stars offense. Number nine hitter Masaaki Koike leadoff the frame with a single to center. Veteran shortstop Takuro Ishii then beat out a grounder to third. Both were sacrificed along by centerfielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo. Saeki then brought Koike in with a sacrifice fly to center. DH Gulan was next and he walked. Rightfielder Boi Rodrigues slashed a single to left to get Ishii across the plate. Then leftfielder Hitoshi Nakane creamed a Yamamoto offering into the leftcenterfield gap for two RBIs and it was 5-0 Stars.

     After Turman was through for the day, three Yokohama relievers permitted just two more hits over the remaining four innings to wrap it up.

     Ishii finished 2-3 with a steal and is now hitting .333. Gulan was 1-3 with a walk to progress to .230. Rodrigues was 1-4 and is at .296.

Ichiro Doesn't Need to Wait

     This spring, the Mariners have been working with Ichiro on getting deeper in counts and trying to draw more walks in order to boost his
OBP. That may not be a good idea, according to Nikkan Sports. When Ichiro suwng at the first pitch, he hit a stellar .442 (42-95). And when he
made contact within the first two offerings he saw in an AB, he did even better, .445. Hmmmmm........

Early 2002 Spring Training Japanese Baseball News


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