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02/19/2004 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball News: ESPN Passes on Japan MLB Opener; Kawakami Finally on the Way Back?"

Is ESPN Japan-Phobic?

According to, the Yankees-Devil Rays Tokyo season opener will only be broadcast on the YES network in New York and nowhere else. From what I understand, ESPN had been considering broadcasting the games, but apparently will not.

As a baseball fan, you don't want Fox doing it since they will trot out their array of corporate brown nosers who imbue the game with all the drama of an IBM board meeting. ESPN did an outstanding job with the 2000 MLB-NPB all star games in 2000, but decided to pass on the last confrontation between the world's two major baseball powers so that they could show more soccer and billiards and other crap that nobody cares about. Now we are going to miss Opening Day thanks to the channel, which ironically bills itself as the "world leader in sports," seems to believe, one can only speculate, it will be too expensive to undertake.

While ESPN devotes enough time to the NFL that you can just about choke on it, it is once again treating baseball fans as second class citizens. For example, during the regular season, that outfit moves Baseball Tonight around more than somebody in the federal witness protection program. Trying to find it is sometimes like engaging in a game of three card monte with a street hustler. Furthermore, even with the increased interest in Japanese baseball (mostly thanks to Michael Westbay's and this site), they and the rest of the media totally ignored the Japan Series. The world leader in sports? The FCC should fine them for false advertising.

Team Reports

Hanshin Pitcher Kazuya Tsutsui and veteran infielders Teruyoshi Kuji and Hiroshi Yagi were promoted from the minor league camp to the first team....Wednesday, rookie shortstop Takashi Toritani lashed balls all over the lot against number one starter Kei Igawa in batting practice. Igawa was throwing all fastballs. After one sequence that saw Toritani sear some gappers, the southpaw uploaded some chin music to the youngster....The same day, Hideki Irabu, who had been taking it easy for a couple of days due to discomfort in his back, got back int he saddle in a 45 pitch throwing session. However, it has also come to light that there was another incident involving the chunky righty at a bar, where he got into a hostile verbal exchange with another patron on the seventh. Let's hope he stays out of the drinking establishments from here on in....Mike Kinkade socked homers in intrasquad games on Saturday and Sunday, but because the former Dodgers stands right on top of the plate and was hit by 16 pitches in only 191 at bats last season (against 13 walks, btw) while allowing the ball to get in on him before he rams it the other way, Manager Akinobu Okada is thinking about asking Kinkade to back off the plate a bit. "He's big enough to cover the plate anyway," Okada averred.

Chunichi Manager Hiromitsu Ochiai halted practice early and treated more than 50 players and coaches, who split up into two parties, to meals at two different restaurants as a reward for the hard work they've been putting in....Number three draft pick Satoru Ishikawa put away all six men he faced Thursday in simulated game on just 21 pitches. He will make an appearance against SK of the KBO on the 24th....And in that SK encounter, outfielder Shogo Mori will bat third thanks to exhibiting good opposite field power in workouts this spring....Ochiai also hopes that Mitsunobu Takahashi will be able to utilize his power and become the Nagoya side's cleanup man, but he's been unimpressive so far this spring....In that same game, centerfielder Alex Ochoa, batting fourth, went 2-4, both hits being singles. One interesting stat cited by Chunichi Sports: in 2003, the Cuba native hit .171 with two strikes on him while going at a .396 clip with no strikes and 393 with one. Five of his 21 homers came on first pitches and nine overall when there were no strikes....Wednesday, MIA righthander Kenshin Kawakami threw 200 pitches and his velocity was up to 88mph. Hiroshima's chief of advance scouting was at the Dragons spring camp and was impressed. Now we'll have to see if Kawakami, who hasn't appeared in a regular season game in three years due to a shoulder problem, can stand up to the workload....MLB scouts take note: Taiwanese 18 year old Chen Wei-Lin was clocked at 93mph Wednesday in his first bullpen workout as a Dragon. A pitching coach remarked that the 6'0" 176 pound Chen's arm speed is "a gift from God" and that his fastball has some real hot sauce on it. "If he can improve his lower body, he could really be scary," the coach evaluated....Shigeki Noguchi used his new cut fastball effectively in a simulated game the other day. That pitch has really become fashionable after Kenshin Kawakami had good success with it in 2002.

Yomiuri Junichi Kawahara, who the team hopes can resurrect his career and become a successful closer again, threw two perfect innings on 19 pitches Thursday in the Giants' first intrasquad game of the spring. What is surprising was that 17 of those deliveries were fastballs and Kawahara is no fireballer, as he was clocked at a high of 90mph....A lowlight of the match, though, was that the foursome of third baseman Hiroki Kokubo, rightfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi, first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara and centerfielder Tuffy Rhodes, the 3-6 hitters, went a combined 1-10, as the top squad was held to a mere four knocks. Adding to the paucity of offense (now there's a sentence!) were baserunning blunders by Keiji Fukui and Akira Etoh....Lefthander Masaori Hayashi worked three innings of one run ball while Hideki Okajima, who effectively used his changeup, made the start for the other side and came up with three innings of two hit ball. Okajima will start against Lotte on the 28th....Number one draft choice Tetsuya Utsumi will start for the Giants' minor leaguers against the first string on the 20th....Injured first baseman Roberto Petagine took batting practice Thursday, plowing 12 beyond the fences in 68 swings. "My legs still feel weak," the Venezuelan told reporters....Ace Koji Uehara was in the bullpen Thursday, tuning up with 49 pitches....There was an item Thursday in Sankei Sports about one of Yomiuri's forays to the Dodgers training site in Vero Beach, this one in 1971. They played six practice games against various MLB nines, running up a 3-3 record. Yomiuri had won its seventh of nine straight Japan Series titles and boasted both Sadaharu Oh and Nagashima as well as current kyojin boss Tsuneo Horiuchi. Horiuchi fanned 11 in seven innings in a faceoff with L.A. and then Kazumi Takahashi whiffed 12 in six innings against Philadelphia to highlight the trip.

Yakult Shortstop Shinya Miyamoto was named captain of the Japanese olympic baseball team after filling the same role during the qualifying tourney....Third baseman Akinori Iwamura, who may be coming to an MLB team near you next season, uncorked a mammoth 450 plus foot roundtripper during his batting practice session Thursday. Former Giants great Shigeo Nagashima was peering from behind the batting cage and said that the stocky Shikoku native is as buff and strong as a foreign player. Iwamura racked up six circuit clouts in 28 swings....The night before, Iwamura treated injured leftfielder Alex Ramirez (hamstring problem) and six others to some yakinku (grilled chicken). With Kazuo Matsui now a Met, Iwamura is on a shortlist to take Matsui's roster spot, as are Kintetsu's Norihiro Nakamura and Hiroki Kokubo. However, Iwamura can also play second and centerfield, making him somewhat more versatile than Kokubo, who is coming off a knee procedure and may not be able to play anywhere other than third and first this year (he has also played second in the past). Nakamura has played short, but his lack of range makes him unlikely to see time there. Iwamura can also steal bases, something the others are incapable of....Catcher Atsuya Furuta has a bad rotator muscle in his right leg and will be out the next few days. He will also miss some upcoming practice games....Wednesday, rookie Ryo Kawashima was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes in a simulated game, giving up two hits against six hitters. They are going to give him a rotation shot this season, though I think he will prove to need more seasoning....Righthander Ryota Igarashi ran it up there Wednesday at 94mph, but he really got done up, as four hits whistled arond the field and he walked one against six batters. Yikes!...Hirotoshi Ishii preceded Igarashi and was touched for a hit and he walked one pitching to a half dozen men....Lefthander Masanori Ishikawa, who is the leader going into the clubhouse to be the Opening Day starter, has come down with an elbow inflammation and will be out at least the next two weeks....Reliever Futoshi Yamabe has an oblique strain and has been sent down to the minors....Manager Tsutomu Wakamatsu thinks his younger players are too serious and need to loosen up. To that effect, he has urged them to go drinking. But as it turns out, while the players in question aren't afraid of repercussions from Wakamatsu, some of the Swallows coaches are rather strict and so they are going to pass on their skipper's offer.

Hiroshima Outfielders Koichi Ogata and Tomonori Maeda and infielder Kenjiro Nomura all had special hitting sessions Thursday, with Ogata launching 22 homers in 90 swings....Infielder Takahiro Arai went with a fastball down and away and laced it over the rightfield fence during a simulated game Thursday, as he focused on hitting the ball back up through the middle. Arai, who was a major reason why the Carp were four under .500 last year, absolutely stop being a strikeout machine for the fish to have a chance at a first division finish....Closer Katsuhiro Nagakawa showed off his slider more than usual during his 77 pitch bullpen workout. Nagakawa features a 92mph fastball and a really filthy splitter, but if he can acquire good command of a third pitch, forget it....20 year old Kan Otake, a 2001 number one selection, went two innings Monday and gave up only a hit in a scoreless performance. He was clocked at a high of 87mph and needed only 19 pitches to cap it off.

Yokohama Infielder Shuichi Murata conked a two run homer on a hanging curve ball from Yuji Hata and drove in a total of three runs in an intrasquad game Monday. Batting instructor Makoto Matsubara thinks he has corrected Murata's uppercut swing that lead to a pile of strikeouts and a low average last season in addition to the 25 dingers he hammered.

Daiei Number one draft choice Takahiro Mahara and two other draftees, former Braves farmhand Kazuhiro Takeoka and rookie Koji Mise, will see moundtime in a practice game against Yomiuri on the 22nd. Mahara, who has already been torquing it up to in excess of 150km/h (93mph), tossed 114 pitches in the bullpen Thursday, including seven cutters. In Thursday's intrasquad game, both Takeoka and Mise fashioned two scoreless innings apiece....Last season's 20 game winner, Kazumi Saito, has been out the last five days due to what is termed "significant discomfort" in his right shoulder. Consequently, he is likely to miss a scheduled intrasquad appearance on the 21st and on the 29th. Saito, however, doesn't believe that the aches will prevent him from starting on Opening Day, but this is a concern since he has a history of shoulder trouble, including tendon surgery in 1998....In Thursday's intrasquad game, lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi threw two innings of one hit ball while second year man Nagisa Arakaki worked on his curveball during his two inning hitless outing in what was ultimately a 0-0 six inning deadlock....Hayato Terahara was in the bullpen for 44 pitches, saying that he is feeling better....First baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka and the Hawks are close to a multiyear agreement, but now they are at loggerheads over incentives and other details. Matsunaka is the only player not re-signed for this coming season....Batting coaches are talking to catcher Kenji Johjima about his approach against lefties. Last season, the all star backstop didn't take any southpaws deep until he victimized Kei Igawa in the Japan Series. The reason for the power drought againt lefties? He likes to allow the ball to get in on him so that he can get as long a look as possible to ensure that he is swinging at strikes. Unfortunately, that means that lefties were able to often jam him.

Seibu Kenichi Toriyabe will start on the 27th in a free admission game against Yomiuri at Nango Stadium. Thursday, Toriyabe threw 204 pitches in his workout. Manager Tsutomu Itoh caught 117 pitches of those to get a closer look at the hillsman's stuff....Ace Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 116 pitches Wednesday while closer Kiyoshi Toyoda flung 115 plateward between the bullpen and batting practice. Matsuzaka broke a blister a couple of days ago during a 313 pitch workout and some of the balls he delivered had blood on them. Shades of Tadashi Sugiura. He showed no ill effects from that and is pretty much ready to go.

Kintetsu The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that reliever Hector Carrasco's deal with the Buffs is for one year at $800,000....Buffs management has seen spring training sales of team goods fall by half due to Norihiro Nakamura flying off to train with L.A. and Tuffy Rhodes packing his bags for Tokyo. Now they hope that souvenirs revolving around another player can help fill the gap. Unfortunately, that player is the unexciting Hirotoshi Kitagawa. I mean, c'mon, that's the best they can do? It's hard to believe that the teeming millions (with apologies to Cecil Adams) will clamor for cell phone straps or t shirts with the journeyman's pic on them. No wonder they're losing tens of millions a season....Promising pitcher Kenta Abe, who is still technically a rookie, is scheduled to start in a practice game against Yomiuri on the 29th....Hector Carrasco threw for the first time since coming to Japan, registering as high as 92mph on the radar gun in a 52 pitch bullpen workout in which he used all of his pitches. He has reportedly been clocked as high as 97mph during his MLB career. In a wacky twist, though, he still hasn't received his work visa and so couldn't go through his routine in a Buffs uni. "He looks like a sandlot player," commented a Kintetsu pitching coach while watching Carrasco do his thing in a balck undershirt and black pants that used to belong to Katsuhiko Maekawa. He is expected to see his first game action in an intrasquad affair on the 27th.

Lotte Incumbent first baseman Kazuya Fukuura displayed some unusual power for him Thursday during an intrasquad game, drilling a trio of dingers, one on a curve and two on fastballs. His competitor for the first sacker position, Seung-yeop Lee, sat out with a backache after homering to rightcenter on a fastball that was up and on the inner half of the plate Wednesday in intrasquad action. Manager Bobby Valentine was
pleased, saying that while Fukuura is no Rafael Palmeiro, he can hit any pitch and he has good pop....Getting back to Lee, he also doubled in that game, going 4-7 overall, and showed patience at the plate....Little shortstop Makoto Kosaka homered for his second intrasquad game in a row, belting a two run jack in the fifth. In an interesting twist, though, statistical analyst Paul Pupo noted that Kosaka, who is perhaps one of the fastest players in the world, ranking with Juan Pierre, who makes even Ichiro seem like he's stuck in neutral, doesn't garner many knocks when he hits the ball ont he ground, but is better when he puts the ball on a line or in the air....But in a negative aspect to the game, submariner Shunsuke Watanabe was tattooed for five runs on five hits in two innings, including a two run bomb from Tetsuya Kakiuchi. Naoyuki Shimizu, though, went two innings of one run ball on two hits, one of them a Fukuura homer and the other a double by Benny Agbayani....Catcher Satozaki took a foul ball in the goolies, bring a grimace of sympathy from Valentine.

Nippon Ham The team held an intrasquad game Thursday and Tsuyoshi Shinjo got sawed off, but the ball dropped in anyway for his lone hit of the day. The contest also saw shutout pitching performances from Yoshinori Tateyama, Yokoyama, who displayed a nasty forkball, and Kiyoshi Sasaki. Yokohama has stacked up five scoreless innings in three spring intrasqaud appearances....Shinjo singled off of Ryan Rupe in another intrasquad game yesterday on a 3-1 pitch. Rupe and Carlos Mirabal still need more work, with Mirabal saying that he is only at about 60% of in season shape right now while Rupe balked twice and was clocked at 88mph....Third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara had a 100 swing special practice session, working solely on taking the ball the opposite way. After he posted a .360 average and grabbed his second straight batting title, seeing what heights the great lefty hitter will attain will be one of the most interesting facets of this coming campaign....Reliever Masashi Date has been elevated back to the first team.

Orix Ex-industrial league rookie southpaw Tatsuo Kato scroogied his way through two innings of shutout ball Thursday in an intrasquad game, though he also walked two. He is scheduled to make appearances against Hanshin on the 28th and 29th.....Hard throwing Kazuo Yamaguchi made his first appearance of the spring in that game, too and was obviously rusty from the year long layoff after rotator cuff surgery. He was only clocked at 87mph, a far cry from his career high of 98mph, and surrendered a pair of runs in two innings. "I was getting my fastball up," Yamaguchi told reporters...Masato Yoshii was also in that one and permitted a run in two innings.

Miscellaneous Chicago White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu checked into the bullpen for 38 pitches. He will take tomorrow off and then open spring training on the 20th....Is anyone else as interested as I am to see how Greg Maddux, who is definitely on the latter stage of his career, will do in hitter friendly Wrigley after pitching the last few seasons in Turner Field, a pitcher's park? With my Dodgers having no shot at the post season in 2004, here's to hoping that Greg wins 15-17 games and makes it back to the World Series....Shidax of the Japanese industrial leagues played Teikyo University in a practice game Thursday and won handily 8-0. However, manager Katsuya Nomura, a hall of fame former pro, wasn't allowed to be in his team's dugout due to arcane rules dealing with contact between college players and entertainers (Nomura has done tv commercials and appeared on variety programs), so he had to run his squad from the stands behind home plate while in full uniform. What a joke....Mets first baseman Jason Phillips told reporters that he likes how true shortstop Kazuo Matsui's throws are. "Usually, most infielder's throws will break a little bit, but his are straight." Matsui has been clocked around 92-93mph in Japan and obviously gets great carry on his pegs....Matsui may also be getting a new nickname, as a reporter for the New York Post referred to him as K-Mat" in an article.

In the News

Yankees-Rays Ticket Fiasco

See story at: Japan Times Article

Matsui Getting Acclimated to New York

See story at: Palm Beach Post Article

Spaceman Shinjo Brings Glitz to Fighters

See story at: Asahi Shimbun Article

Former Lions Pitcher Maeda to Play in China

See story at:Japan Today Article

Baseball Language of Heart After WWII

See story at: Pacific Stars and Stripes Article

Japanese Umpires Make Impression at MLB Umpiring School

See story at: St. Petersburg Times Article

Choi Healthy, Looking Forward to Season

See story at: Dong-A Ilbo Article

Replies: 1 Comment

"Kawakami on the way back?"

I am assuming you meant Kenjiro Kawasaki, who was signed as a free agent 3 years ago. He has yet to play for the Chunichi Dragons' top team. Kawakami, on the other hand, threw a no-hitter against the Yomiuri Giants two years ago.

Posted by ...jballfan @ 02/20/2004 03:07 PM EST

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