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Friday, Aug. 7, 2009

NPB NOTEBOOK

Kamei's play forces Giants to alter plans


Staff writer

Yomiuri Giants outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei made one thing clear with his two-homer day against the Hiroshima Carp on Tuesday in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.

There's no more room in the Yomiuri outfield.

It was reported Monday that oft-injured star right fielder Yoshinobu Takahashi has aspirations of making a return to the team. Current right fielder Kamei's play, however, means Takahashi will have to learn a new position in order to do it.

Kamei is showing no signs of loosening his grip on the position, having become a staple in the Giants' attack since taking over for Takahashi last season.

Which is why reports have Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara looking to finding out if Takahashi is able to man first base, where the team has had problems all season.

Kamei is batting .285 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs through 86 games this season. The first of his aforementioned two homers against the Carp tied the game in the ninth and the second won it in the 11th. He's shown his worth in the field as well, making a number of stellar plays in the outfield.

Kamei's talents also led to his being named to Japan's World Baseball Classic team in the spring. He appeared in three games for Samurai Japan, which successfully defended its WBC title.

Takahashi, meanwhile, hasn't played at all this season and appeared in just 91 games in 2007, batting .236 with 17 homers and 41 RBIs.

He has battled injuries for the majority of his career, but his various mishaps diving for balls in the Yomiuri outfield have taken an especially heavy toll in recent years.

The Giants star has appeared in 100 games just once since playing in 109 in 2004. Entering his 12th season, Takahashi has appeared in at least 130 games just three times; in 2000 (130), 2001 (140) and 2007 (133).

The 34-year-old Chiba native was injured early in the 2008 campaign, paving the way for Kamei to take over. The younger player did just that, making the most of the increased playing time by becoming a fixture in the Yomiuri starting lineup.

The handwriting was on the wall during the offseason when the Giants awarded Kamei with a single digit number (going from No. 35 to 9), symbolically solidifying the 27-year-old's spot on the team.

Which leaves Takahashi left with the option of being plugged in at a position he's never played.

Yomiuri has yet to find a solution for its problems at first base, given the inconsistent play of Lee Seung Yeop, who has spent considerable time on the ni-gun squad with injuries. Third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara has played the position on occasion and so has Kamei, among others.

Takahashi is a career .299 batter, just two seasons removed from batting .306 and hitting 35 home runs. Less likely to get injured at first, Takahashi could be a big upgrade for the Giants, who suddenly find their once-dominating lead atop the Central League standings under fire.

"This season, we have had a lot of trouble with the first base position," Hara was quoted as saying by Kyodo News on Monday. "I've told him about the team's situation and he understands. Playing the outfield has been a burden for him and that's why he is the way he is now. I think that he will be willing to make a sacrifice for the team."



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