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Friday, April 24, 2009

NPB NOTEBOOK

Kanemoto, Rhodes aging like fine wines


Staff writer

Finding and identifying talented young players is a big part of the game of baseball.

But as the 2009 season is showing early on, there's no substitute for experience.

Hanshin's Tomoaki Kanemoto and Orix's Tuffy Rhodes have taken Japanese baseball by storm this year with numbers that put their younger peers to shame.

Through Wednesday, the 41-year-old Kanemoto was batting .443, with NPB-highs in home runs (eight) and RBIs (26). Not to mention the Tigers outfielder already has a pair of three-homer games to his credit this season.

Kanemoto is hitting home runs at a frenetic pace through 16 games and, while a dropoff is expected, could emerge as a threat to the single-season record of 55 shared by Sadaharu Oh, Rhodes and Alex Cabrera.

The oldest position player on an Opening Day roster, Kanemoto has been nothing short of amazing this season and will be the main factor in the Tigers' hopes of reaching the Japan Series.

His Kansai neighbor Rhodes hasn't been quite as dominating, but has laid waste to Pacific League pitching in a similar fashion.

After Wednesday's 6-3 victory over the Seibu Lions, Rhodes was batting .448 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs.

The veteran slugger has had at least 40 homers in each of his last two seasons and in six of the last seven seasons he's played.

At 40, Rhodes is showing no signs of slowing down and looks well on his way to another big season.

Both Kanemoto and Rhodes are the star attractions in their teams' lineup, making it even more impressive that each can still be "the man" on his squad when other players their age are thinking retirement.

The Tigers and Buffaloes each finished second in their respective league last season and should the two golden oldies keep it up, an all-Kansai Japan Series would not be out of the question this fall.

The duo will square off for the first time this year when The Tigers and Buffaloes meet in an interleague series on May 22 and 23.

Welcome back: Hokkaido Nippon Ham pitcher Tomoya Yagi was called up to the ichigun on Tuesday and made his season debut on Wednesday against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks at Tokyo Dome.

Yagi didn't factor into the decision in the 3-2 loss, but gave Fighters fans a lot to look forward to.

He yielded one unearned run on five hits over six innings. Yagi struck out three and left with a 2-1 lead before the Hawks rallied in the eighth.

Yagi was the Pacific League Rookie of the Year in 2006, going 12-8 in with a 2.48 ERA in 26 games. He appeared in just 15 games the next season, going 4-6 with a 4.54 ERA and played just twice last season.

In 2006, Yagi teamed with then-second-year pitcher Yu Darvish to give the Fighters a dynamic duo of young arms in their rotation, which was a guiding force in the team's Japan Series title that season.

It was Yagi who notched Nippon Ham's first win against Chunichi during the '06 Japan Series, in Game 2, while Darvish was on the hill for the series-clinching Game 5 win.

Pitching has been a concern for the Fighters this season, who sent hurlers Shugo Fujii and Ryo Sakakibara to the minor league team.

Manager Masataka Nashida is hoping Yagi has worked out his issues and can regain his 2006 form to aid the team's pitching staff.



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