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Saturday, May 10, 2008

NPB NOTEBOOK

Kamei, Sakamoto capitalize when given chance to shine with Giants


Staff writer

While the Yomiuri Giants' All-Stars have gotten off to a slow start this season, two unheralded players have stolen the spotlight.

News photo
Young guns: Yoshiyuki Kamei (left) and Hayato Sakamoto give the Yomiuri Giants hope for the future. KYODO PHOTO

Seldom-used outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei and shortstop Hayato Sakamoto have been two of the bright spots for the Giants throughout an otherwise forgettable start to the year.

Through Thursday, Kamei had appeared in 35 games, 15 more than he played in last year and more than halfway to the career-high 65 appearances he posted in 2006.

Kamei has made the most of his time in the lineup, batting .281, the second-highest average on the team among Giants with at least 100 at-bats, with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

He also has three steals this season and along with Sakamoto gives the normally sluggish Giants options on the basepaths beyond pinch hitter/runner Takahiro Suzuki.

Sakamoto is making the most of his time with the top team, too, filling in admirably at shortstop after Tomohiro Nioka, one of the more popular Giants, was sidelined with an injury in the season opener.

The 19-year-old infielder has begun the year batting .265 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. In 34 games at shortstop, Sakamoto has a .972 fielding percentage in Nioka's absence.

He has excelled most with runners in scoring position, batting .375 with two homers through Wednesday.

Those numbers make it fitting that his first career home run, which came in a 9-1 victory over the Hanshin Tigers on April 6, was a grand slam.

"It's something I won't forget for the rest of my life," he said afterward.

Kamei and Sakamoto have been two of the most consistent performers among the Yomiuri batters and when the rest of the team catches up to them, they will go a long way to deciding if the Giants can repeat as CL champions.

Rami's world: Speaking of the mighty Kyojin, the Giants are starting to see big returns from their offseason investment in slugger Alex Ramirez. "Rami" started the season in style, a home run in his first at-bat for the team, then tapered off a little after the opening series.

He's back in the groove now and beginning to put up scary numbers in the cleanup spot for the Giants.

Ramirez is batting .476 with three home runs and seven RBIs in his last five games, and through Wednesday was batting .333 with two homers and 11 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

On Thursday, he led a Giants rally with a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth inning that sent Yomiuri past the league-leading Hanshin Tigers. The shot was his CL-best 10th homer of the season.

Ramirez is batting .294 with 23 RBIs for the season and it's no surprise that the third-place Giants' climb out of the B class began when their prized slugger began to heat up.

Careful what you wish for: Yokohama BayStars pitcher Hayato Terahara, who has a 28-26 career record as a starter, earned his first save in over six seasons on April 27 against the Hiroshima Carp.

Afterward Terahara, who was the BayStars' Opening Day starter this season, said that while he wanted to remain a starter, he would be open to operating out of the closer's role on a regular basis.

Manager Akihiko Oya was apparently listening and Terahara is currently taking one for the team and appearing as the team's closer more often.

The starter-turned-reliever has a team-high four saves (in five relief appearances) this season after shutting down the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the ninth inning on Wednesday.

Cheers: Tokyo Yakult Swallows hurler Masanori Ishikawa shut down the Yomiuri Giants on Opening Day and never looked back, going 5-2 with a 2.36 ERA en route to earning the first Central League monthly MVP award of his seven-year career.

Hanshin's Takahiro Arai was the MVP among CL position players, while Hokkaido Nippon Ham ace Yu Darvish and Tohoku Rakuten slugger Takeshi Yamasaki were the Pacific League honorees.

On the farm: If the numbers are any indication, the next crop of Seibu Lions will turn out to be just as good as the group currently reigning supreme in the Pacific League.

Haruki Kurose, 23, has gotten off to a blazing start for Seibu's farm team in the Eastern League, batting .333 with one home run, 10 RBIs, 25 runs scored and 10 stolen bases in 25 games through May 6.

Kurose, an infielder, was taken with Seibu's second draft pick in 2004 after playing for Gifu Prefectural High School.

Nice numbers. But with the top team, which is in first place and handed Darvish his first loss of the season on Wednesday, playing at such a high clip, Kurose will likely have to be content with terrorizing Eastern League pitchers for a little while longer.



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