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03/18/2004 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball News: LaRocca, Ochoa Go Far to Do Yardwork; Wada May Not Make Opening Day"

LaRocca, Ochoa Homer in 6-6 Tie

Hiroshima second baseman Greg LaRocca is making a strong case for being the Opening Day starter at that position, as he slugged a two run homer Monday, his first in Japan, at Komai to give the Carp a brief 2-0 lead. They would go on to battle the Chunichi Dragons to a 6-6 tie, but boasting a .412 average, LaRocca and shortstop Andy Sheets will become the only foreign keystone combination when the regular schedule opens in some time and perhaps, though I don't know this for sure, Japanese history.

Anyway, Kan Otake was on the hill for the fish and continues to struggle after displaying some promise at the end of last season, as he went six innings and was tagged for five runs on seven hits to boost his spring ERA to 6.00. He did, however, fan nine while walking only one.

Masafumi Hirai started for the Dragons and looks as if he is just about ready to go, as he was running it up there at 93mph and managed his pitches fairly well, going just a hair over the 100 pitch limit set for him by manager Hiromitsu Ochiai during his seven inning tour of duty. But Masataka Endo, backed by some inept defense, made Hirai's lead disappear and so the two sides kissed their sisters.

Hirai and Otake both came out breathing fire, with the former Orix veteran blowing away four of the first nine men he saw while the youngster surpassed that with five K's against ten men in three. Thus, it was scoreless until the fourth, when centerfielder Takuya Kimura laced a triple to left and trotted home when LaRocca crushed a fastball that Hirai failed to get in enough and mortared it beyond the leftfield bleachers and completely out of the yard to put the Carp up 2-0.

However, Otake would then be victimized by the longball, as, in the bottom of the inning, second baseman Masahiro Araki leadoff with a single to right and, two outs later, centerfielder Alex Ochoa lifted his average to .375 by socking, like LaRocca, a middle-in heater completely beyond the seats and it was a 2-2 deadlock.

The Dragons then got rocking, as their next time up, catcher Yuichi Yanagisawa singled to right and shortstop Tadaatsu Nakazawa walked. Rightfielder Teppei Tsuchiya smoked a double to left to cash in two and, one out later, made for home on DH Kazuki Inoue's single to center to put the score at Chunichi 5, Hiroshima 2.

It would remain that way until the seventh, when shortstop Kazunori Okagami singled to right and jetted home on a triple off the centerfield fence by rookie leftfielder Yoshinori Ogata. DH Tomonori Maeda singled to right to usher Ogata in and it was 5-4 Chunichi.

The Dragons would get what they thought was vital insurance in the eighth, though, as reliever Shigeo Tamaki walked both backup leftfielder Kenji Makuta and first baseman Masahiko Morino to set up an RBI opportunity for third baseman So Tsutsui, who delivered with a single to left that plated Makuta. Tamaki avoided further damage when he induced a subsequent strikeout and two groundouts to first and it went into the ninth with the Dragons in the driver's seat 6-4.

With one down, backup centerfielder Soichiro Amaya walked. Reserve second baseman Akihiro Higashide singled to left. Makuta let the ball get behind him and by the time he retrieved it, Amaya had crossed the plate. Third baseman Kenta Kurihara grounded to Tsutsui, who had no play at the plate, so he got the out where he could as Higashide scampered in to level it at six all. First baseman Shigenobu Shima grounded to second for what should have been the game's final out, but Masataka Minatogawa clanked it and now the winning run was at third. Fortunately for the Nagoya faithful, Endo took things in his own hands and struck Jun Hirose out to put it in the books.

For Hiroshima, Sheets was 1-2 and is at .250.

Pitching Lines:


Otake IP 6.0 BF 26 PC 101 H 7 HR 1 K 9 BB 1 R 5 ER 5 ERA 6.00
Kikuchihara IP 1.0 BF 3 PC 10 H 0 HR 0 K 0 BB 0 R 0 ER 0 ERA 9.00
S. Tamaki IP 1.0 BF 6 PC 29 H 1 HR 0 K 1 BB 2 R 1 ER 1 ERA 7.50
Sawazaki IP 1.0 BF 3 PC 11 H 0 HR 0 K 0 BB 0 R 0 ER 0 ERA 0.00


Hirai IP 7.0 BF 30 PC 102 H 8 HR 1 K 8 BB 0 R 4 ER 4 ERA 3.21
Kito IP 1.0 BF 5 PC 18 H 1 HR 0 K 1 BB 1 R 0 ER 0 ERA 6.00
Endo IP 1.0 BF 7 PC 21 H 1 HR 0 K 2 BB 1 R 2 ER 0 ERA 1.50

E: Ishihara, Makuta, Morino 2, Minatogawa
SB: Higashide
2B: Tsuchiya, Makuta
3B: T. Kimura, Ogata
HR: LaRocca (1), Ochoa (3)
RBI: T. Maeda, LaRocca 2, Kurihara, Ogata, Tsuchiya 2, K. Inoue, Ochoa 2, S. Tsutsui

Game Time: 3:06
Attendance: 7,000
Umpires: Yoshimoto (HP), Suginaga (1B), Kittaka (2B), Tuschiyama (3B)

Team Reports

Hanshin In a weird twist, manager Akinobu Okada has named rookie Takashi Toritani as his Opening Day starting shortstop even though incumbent Atsushi Fujimoto is batting .565 to Toritani's .235. Okada believes that Toritani has a bigger upside. No word on what Fujimoto thinks about this. Toritani will bat seventh, according to Sports Nippon.

Chunichi Reliever Hitoki Iwase has started working out again after breaking his left middle toe in a fall at his home. While manager Hiromitsu Ochiai is under the impression that Iwase thinks he will be ready for Opening Day, Iwase himself told the press that he will be cautious so that he doesn't cause any serious long term problems by coming back too rapidly. He also says that he is suffering no pain....Pitcher Kenta Asakura has injured his shoulder and will begin the regular season in the minors.

Yomiuri Manager Tsuneo Horiuchi will have Roberto Petagine undergo a special hitting session Tuesday at Tokyo Dome before a game with Daiei. Horiuchi wants to see how Petagine's rehab from knee surgery is going. Horiuchi is also not very pleased with first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara's .273, no homers thus far....Ace Koji Uehara and shortstop Tomohiro Nioka, currently out with muscle pulls, will also workout Tuesday before the game. Uehara is well enough that he can throw again and may start this weekend against Nippon Ham. Nioka looks as if he is going to be out a while longer....Another injured player, outfielder Takayuki Saito, will likely make an instructional league start on Wednesday....Closer Junichi Kawahara is now also on the injury train, as he has come down with an elbow inflammation....Yomiuri's minor league squad dropped an instructional league match to Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance's industrial league nine thanks to an error riddled ninth inning 11-8.

Yakult Lefthander Masanori Ishikawa is back up with the top team after going down with an elbow inflammation, but still isn't ready. In the event Ishikawa can't start on Opening Day, that job may go to Yuya Kamada....The Swallows also announced that in the wake of the terrorist incident in Spain that all bags carried by fans into Meiji Jingu Stadium will be inspected. They will position three security guards at each entrance to the ballpark to carry out the inspections....Number six draft choice Satoshi Sato, a southpaw, has been called up to replace the disappointing Yuhei Takai. Sato has reportedly dropped 17 pounds during spring workouts...Outfielder Billy Martin had an MRI on his elbow Monday. The images will be sent to a specialist in the U.S....Leftfielder Alex Ramirez is just about ready to get into the thick of the action, as he was called back up after dealing with a knee problem.

Yokohama Closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, who has been hampered by a muscle pull lately, will make his first appearance in a Japanese game in more than four years on the 20th against Seibu. Monday, he did some windsprints and long tossing. The last time Sasaki was seen in the center of a diamond in Japan was August 1, 1999 against Hanshin....Pitcher Takashi Saito threw 60 pitches Monday in batting practice. He hopes to get into a game early next week.

Daiei Lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada hurt his thumb on the ninth and the swelling still hasn't disappeared. He was scheduled to start the third game of the regular season, but that will almost certainly be pushed back in favor of either Brandon Knight or Akio Mizuta....Third baseman Munenori Kawasaki is on the shelf for now with a knee problem. He could miss Opening Day as well.

Seibu For the first time since Seibu bought the team back in 1979, the Lions have changed their home uniforms. See photo below.

Kintetsu With first baseman Yuji Yoshioka now out for the season with a severed Achilles tendon, Larry Barnes will be moving back to his natural position form leftfield. Barnes himself says that he will play wherever they want him to, buy in trying to adjust to a new culture and living environment, being stationed at a familiar position where he is very handy with the glove will make that transition easier.....As for Yoshioka, he had surgery just a few hours after Sunday's game, which reportedly went off well. He will be in a cast for six weeks. If doctors grant permission, he will be released from hospital on the 17th.

Lotte Manager Bobby Valentine will make a personal appearance in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture on the 21st....Infielder Lee Seung-yeop's wife has arrived in Japan. However, at the request of Lee, she didn't stop to talk to reporters since he wants to avoid any off the field distractions.

Nippon Ham The team's playera think that the artificial surface at Sapporo Dome is too hard and have submitted a formal request to have it renovated. "Except for the surface, this is the best ballpark in the world," evaluated outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. A team official said that they will look into the cost of replacing the turf.

Miscellaneous Mets shortstop Kazuo Matsui played in the field for the first time Monday since hurting a finger earlier and handled two chances flawlessly. More importantly, after striking out swinging in his first at bat against the Dodgers on a 1-2 changeup, he took a 2-1 sinker down and away from Tanyon Sturtze over the leftfield wall while hitting lefthanded. In his third and final time up, he doubled on a 1-1 fastball on the inner half of the plate. "The wind took it out," said Sturtze of the Matsui dinger. The Dodgers won 11-9....So Taguchi started in centerfield Monday against Atlanta and went 1-3....Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki faced off against Oakland and went 1-3 with a run scored. The knock was a first inning single off of Tim Hudson....Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui had the day off....Indians reliever Kazuhito Tadano pitched a scoreless inning, permitting a hit....Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka tossed a perfect inning Sunday against Anaheim....Montreal righty Tomo Ohka went five scoreless innings against the Dodgers Sunday....Shingo Takatsu of the Chicago White Sox came on for the eighth against San Francisco Sunday and retired all three men he saw. Barry Bonds didn't play in that game due to back pain.

Shigeo Nagashima The former Yomiuri Giants hall of fame third baseman stood up for the first time since suffering a stroke during a rehab session Monday. He was being aided by a physical therapist, with the purpose of restoring his balance. He still reportedly has some residual paralysis on his right side. But he is getting to the point to where he is starting to eat semi-solid food.

Koshien Tournament The spring Koshien Invitational High School Baseball Tournament will begin on March 23rd. Tohoku High School righander Yu Darvish, who is the object of interest from several Japanese and MLB teams, will start against Kyushu baseball power Kumamoto Kogyo High, who will feature a lefthanded sidearmer in Yuki Iwami. Darvish, who had some back problems during last year's summer tourney, has done extensive weight work strengthening that area and now reportedly has double the strength there than he did a year ago....And in another intriguing contest, Hiroshima's Koryo High will knock heads with Higashikuni High. Both have produced numerous pro players.

Today's Photos

Seibu Players Show Off New Home Uniforms

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