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Baseball Analysis Home   Gary Garland / the japanese insider


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........


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