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02/23/2004 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball News: Toritani Dials Looooong Distance; Leon Lee Hired by Mets"

Team Reports

Hanshin Rookie shortstop Takashi Toritani surprised everybody in the known universe when, Sunday, he pumped a 2-1 86mph fastball from second year pitcher Naohisa Sugiyama an estimated 490 feet to right completely out of the yard during an intrasquad game. He also walked and blistered a hard grounder to first. Saturday, he had a pair of knocks, but also two errors, perhaps feeling thepressure of playing before 25,000 people. By the way, the homer ball was picked up by reliever Morrell, who was doing some running outside the ballpark, and given to the number one draft pick for his trophy case....Sugiyama, the Tigers 2002 number one draft choice, was then victimized two more bombs, a three run shot just past the rightfield foul pole by Kentaro Sekimoto and a first pitch roundtripper to right by rookie Tsuyoshi Kida in the third....Making things easier for Toritani, though, incumbent shortstop Atsushi Fujimoto strained an oblique muscle and left the game early after clocking two hits and stealing a base....Morrel had a bad time Saturday, hitting the first man he faced with a breaking ball that didn't, being snookered for a steal and walking two in his one inning assignment while coughing up a safety, though even with all that, he limited the opposition to one run....Righthander Keiichi Yabu said that he will use his upcoming free agency rights to go to MLB. I doubt, however, that anyone will offer him anything other than an invitation to spring training.

Chunichi Don't call him humble. When a Chunichi Sports beat writer informed manager Hiromitsu Ochiai that Ochiai abused Kazuhiro Sasaki to the tune of a .444 average when the slugger was with Yomiuri and the Dragons, Ochiai retorted, "I thought I hit him better than that!" He then continued, "actually, the guy I hated facing was [now retired Kintetsu reliever Koki] Morita. I just wanted to sit it out when he was pitching." Ochai further observed that Sasaki throws balls 80% of the time. When apprised of this remark, Sasaki responded, "nobody ever said I had bad control." Anybody want to bet that Ochiai is trying to get into Daimajin's head?...The most important thing for the Nagoya side this weekend, though, was Kenjiro Kawasaki's scoreless two innings in Saturday's intrasquad game. He used his newly acquired changeup and was able to get his shuuto to bore in on righthanded hitters. The former Yakult righthander's fastball was all over the place velocitywise, reaching a high of 86mph. He is now slated to make a start against Daiei on March second at Fukuoka Dome.

Yomiuri More than 8000 fans showed up Sunday to see a practice game with Daiei, but it was rained out. This has hardly been a good weekend for the Giants, who saw ace Koji Uehara go down with a pulled hamstring Saturday and he may not be able to make his Opening Day start as a result....Manager Tsuneo Horiuchi is going to fiddle with his lineup in the next couple of weeks during intrasquad games, as he may have big first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara hit as low as seventh. Kiyohara hasn't been that low in the order since he was a rookie with Seibu in 1986. He did well there, though, posting a .298 average with four homers and 17 RBIs in 32 games. He is looking healthy and should have no problems beginning the exhibition season in the starting lineup. Horiuchi would prefer alternating lefty-righty hitters and third baseman Hiroki Kokubo may also see some time in the seventh slot....Infielder Roberto Petagine took ground balls for the first time this spring and said he felt good afterward. He didn't do windsprints, however, as he rehabs his knee....Leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes told Hochi Sports Sunday that after watching DVD footage of Central League pitchers, he was most impressed by Hanshin's Kei Igawa and Hiroshima's Hiroki Kuroda. He hopes to see them in exhibition action this spring, saying that they remind him of Daiei's Tsuyoshi Wada and Daisuke Matsuzaka respectively. Last season, Rhodes hit .263 against Matsuzaka and only .176 against Wada.

Yakult Catcher Atsuya Furuta's groin muscle is still bothering him and he's unable to participate in regular workouts, so instead he has become kind of a special instructor, perhaps in preparation for taking over the management of the team would the Swallows falter this season. The future hall of famer needs 164 hits for 2000 and 12 dingers for 200....And now third baseman Akinori Iwamura has come down with a groin injury, which he suffered on Thursday during defensive drills. A practice game against Nippon Ham was canceled Sunday, so he took the day off. But Monday, he will have a couple of at bats in another practice match against SK of the KBO....Leftfielder Alex Ramirez has rejoined regular workouts after suffering a slight hammy pull last week....Top draft pick Ryo Kawashima did some long tossing Friday and started fooling around with a chanegup. He was getting some nice sink on it and a coach urged him to add it to his arsenal.

Hiroshima Pitcher Chris Brock hurt his shoulder and has left the squad's spring training camp site in Nichinan to have it looked at in Hiroshima....Since it was 2/22, veteran Ken Takahashi threw that many pitches in his bullpen session, 222. He will start in an intrasquad game on Wednesday.

Yokohama Well, here's an unpleasant omen for the team, which is seeking to not make it three cellar finishes in a row this season: they lost 5-3 to the Shonan Sea Rex, their minor league affiliate. However, mainstays Takanori Suzuki, Takahiro Saeki and Tyrone Woods did not play. Second baseman Seiichi Uchikawa homered to tie it up in the seventh, but the Sea Rex then rallied to notch two more tallies and that was that. Takeshi Tsutsumiuchi went four innings of two hit, one run ball for the winners....Closer Kazuhiro Sasaki is working on a changeup during Sunday's workout, which is also his 36th birthday. "I have to do something new," Sasaki told reporters. However, last season, he added a curve ball and then rarely used it once the regular schedule kicked off. At Seattle, he was alongside two of the wickedest changeups in the majors, Jamie Moyer and Freddie Garcia. So we'll see if he's learned from their examples.

Daiei Third year righthander Hayato Terahara threw 246 pitches in the bullpen today, the most he has ever thrown at any one time, and then took some fungoes....Takahiro Mahara was sceduled to appear in Sunday's rained out faceoff with Yomiuri, so he will be start on Tuesday. He compensated for the missed opportunity by throwing 111 pitches back at the team's campsite....First baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka finally signed a new contract, a pact good for a reported total, including incentives, of about $10 million over the course of three years. Matsunaka described himself as relieved that it was all over. That also makes it unlikely that Matsunaka, 30, who has only been rumored about being interested in eventually going to MLB, will play anywhere else other than Japan, especially since it is unknown how his knees will hold up.

Seibu Ace Daisuke Matsuzaka will start Monday in an intrasquad game, though he will limit his repetoire to just his fastball, as he wants to work on his mechanics and ball movement....Righthander Chang Chia-chiah threw 66 pitches in batting practice
Sunday and, through the press, warned Daiei catcher Kenji Johjima and second baseman Tadahito Iguchi to watch out for his shuuto when he pitches against them in the opening series of the regular season. However, rather than issuing bulletin board material to the Japan Series champions, should focus on his control and command, which often went MIA in 2003 in a disappointing sophomore campaign.

Kintetsu Third baseman Norihiro Nakamura took his first batting practice with the Dodgers Sunday, clearing the fences nine times in 47 swings. He revealed that he was uptight since the practice routine is different and he doesn't want to be taken lightly. Hochi Sports quotes new GM John DePodesta as saying, "he has good bat speed and strong wrists. There are a lot of good third baseman in MLB, but not all 30 of them and he could it wouldn't surprise me if he found a job somewhere." Nakamura also told reporters that he expects to see more power production out of Hideki Matsui this year: "Compared to when he played in Japan, [Matsui's] swing has gotten smaller. I want him to swing harder this time"....Former Hanshin sidearmer Tetsuro Kawajiri will be given a rotation shot after being consigned to little more than an afterthought in 2003 by the Tigers. Friday, he made an intrasquad appearance and went three innings of one hit ball, that lone runner reaching on a blooper....The Buffs may play at least a few home games at their former home ground, Fujiidera Stadium, next season in order to pay for new turf for the 70 plus year old facility. It just barely escaped the wrecking ball when plans to build a new ballpark for its minor league club went by the wayside. But the edifice, which was originally built as part of much larger community development plan back in the early 30's, is badly in need of renovation and changing the turf by itself hardly imbues it with the improvements it needs. In addition, nearby residents are said to be resistant to night games there. Indeed, Kintetsu used to play many of its "nighters" at now deceased Osaka Stadium back in the early 50's or at Nihon Seimei Stadium.

Lotte According to the Newark Star-Ledger, manager Bobby Valentine contacted reliever Turk Wendell directly about moving his address to Makuhari and sidestepped the eccentric righty's agents, who Valentine, the report says, "despises them intently." Wendell ultimately chose, and Lotte fans will be thankful for this, to take an offer to go to spring training with Colorado, where he lives....Naoyuki Shimizu will make the exhibition start against Seibu on March 14th....Tomohiro Kuroki had an intrasquad game start rained out Sunday. There is talk that he might start against Yomiuri on the 28th, but that isn't certain to happen.

Nippon Ham While outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo was taking batting practice, the power inside the dome practice area he was using went out. The former Met and Hanshin Tiger ended up taking 400 swings against a pitching machine, focusing especially in taking the ball to right....Shinjo's presence is being credited with helping to inflate the team's official fan club rolls to 20,000, with 5,000 of those joining just in February alone. Last year, 14,000 were in the Fighters fold....New addition Fernando Seguignol arrived in Japan Saturday for his second tour of duty in Japan. He was with Orix two years ago before being signed by the Yankees for 2003. He then had his first workout with his new teammates and took 54 swings, 27 from each side, in batting practice.

Orix Lefty Trey Moore made an intrasquad game appearance and surrendered a 450 plus foot homer to infielder Takeshi Yamasaki on a pitch he got up during his two inning, eight hitter stint, permitting two hits and a run overall while delivering 29 times to the plate. Moore was pleased with the initial outing and used his entire repetoire....Yamasaki also clubbed a second homer, that one off of Shuichi Iwashita....Centerfielder Arihito Muramatsu is showing that his comeback from a dislocated shoulder is a viable undertaking, as he cracked a single to right in an intrasquad game Sunday and then swatted a deep drive to rightcenter that was flagged down thanks only to superb running catch. "I'm at about 60% right now," said the former Hawk, who has also had a recent bout of the flu....Roosevelt Brown, making his first intrasquad appearance in a DH role, singled his first time up and then took a ball off of his elbow from teammate and pitcher Satoshi Tokumoto. However, the former Cub refused to leave the batter's box and said he wanted to see more pitches. Manager Haruki Ihara gave that the thumb's up and Brown then seared a liner to left that was caught. Brown would like to be the starting rightfielder and with Ryota Aikawa out of the picture for now, he will be tested there....Pitcher Jason Phillips sat out his scheduled appearance due to an intestinal inflammation. He will be moved back to Monday's game....Infielder Jose Ortiz started last season at third, made a ton of errors and then was moved back to his natural position, second, where he looked a lot more comfortable and his defense improved somewhat. But Ihara is seeking even better fielding ability than that and so Ortiz will be battling with Takeshi Yamasaki for the first base job. Yamasaki is no wiz with the leather, so expect Ortiz to prevail.

Industrial Leagues Shidax hurler Takahiko Nomaguchi, who is drawing muy grande interest from the Dodgers as well as at least three Japanese teams for the 2004 November draft, was perfect in a three inning tuneup on the 16th and then threw 174 pitches in his bullpen session the following day. He will start in the first game of an upcoming tournament on March 8th....Brazilian-Japanese infielder Tsugio Sato, who was released by Yakult last December and hooked up with Shidax, has applied to become a naturalized Japanese citizen. The move will perhaps make it easier for him to rejoin the pros since he then won't count against the four foreign player limit.

Miscellaneous According to the Newark Star-Ledger, the Dodgers are dangling Kazuhisa Ishii as trade bait for a bat. Ishii threw 47 pitches from both a windup and the set position Sunday....The Ledger also says that former Toei Flyer Don Zimmer is working on another book....According to, teh Indians are likely to start Kazuhito Tadano at AAA this coming season....Alex Rodriguez left a calling card for a Japanese reporter Saturday, when he thundered a drive off the guy's rent a car and left a two inch dent, according to the Associated Press. "I didn't think Alex would be hitting today," Masanori Hirose said. "My mistake"....Atlanta Braves righthander Jung Bong's father has sadly come down with stomach cancer. He is phoning home everyday to check up on him. For those who haven't lived in the Confucian culture of Korea as I have, Bong, as the oldest son, is left with the biggest responsibility over caring for his parents. One really feels the impact of how much parents are revered there each Lunar New Year, when whole cities seem to empty out as offspring visit their parents to bow before them and pay tribute. Here's to hoping the elder Bong recovers quickly and fully....According to Sports Nippon, the Yankees will arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo around 2 a.m. on March 27th JST on a JAL charter flight. They will then head for a hotel in Yotsuya, Shinjuku Ward via Limousine Bus. Hideki Matsui, though, will go to his Tokyo apartment. Haneda is usually closed by 11 p.m., but apparently the team and the airline have obtained special permission for the post midnight landing....Padres righthander Akinori Otsuka worked out for about two hours at the team's spring training site in Peoria, Arizona, throwing 34 pitches in a brief bullpen session. He said that he had a near sleepless night last night in anticipation of opening spring training and feels like he did when he was making the transition to pro ball with Kintetsu.

In the News

Mets Loving Matsui

See story at: Article

Leon Lee Named Mets Minor League Skipper

See story at: Article

ChiSox Coaches Like Takatsu's Sinker

See story at: Article

Takatsu Enjoying Spring Training

See story at: Article

Nomo Now Dodgers' Ace

See story at: L.A. Daily News Article

Godzilla Matsui Won't Mind Hitting Eighth

See story at: Newsday Article

Choi Getting Golden Defensive Tutoring

See story at: Article

Seung-yeop Lee Comfortable in First Intrasquad Game

See story at: Dong-A Ilbo Article

Aussie 14 Year Old Girl Makes Adult Ballclub

See story at: Townsville Bulletin Article

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