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Saturday, March 6, 2010

NPB NOTEBOOK

Dragons welcome next generation


Staff writer

After winning the Japan Series two seasons ago, Chunichi Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said he wanted to start looking for the successors to his current stars.

News photo
Spring surprise: Chunichi Dragons rookie outfielder Yusuke Matsui has hit three homers this preseason. KYODO PHOTO

He's gotten off to a good start this spring.

The Yomiuri Giants got a small taste of the Dragons' future on Wednesday when Chunichi rookie Yusuke Matsui went 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs to lift the Dragons to an 8-0 victory in an exhibition game.

Fellow rookie Masato Matsui also homered in that contest.

The homer was Yusuke Matsui's third of the preseason, making him the first Central League rookie in over 40 years to hit at least three homers in the exhibition season.

The last was Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima, who hit seven longballs in the 1958 preseason, before going on to win Rookie of the Year honors after going .305 with 29 homers and 92 RBIs that summer.

Yomiuri's Sadaharu Oh is the only other rookie to go deep more than three times during the open-sen schedule, hitting five in 1959.

Yusuke Matsui also went 2-for-3 in a 2-0 victory on Thursday.

On the mound, second-year hurler Junki Ito had his way with the Giants for six innings, striking out five while allowing no runs and a pair of hits on Wednesday.

Ito also had a good outing earlier in the spring, tossing three shutout innings and striking out four against the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization.

While putting up impressive stats in the spring is promising, sometimes it counts for nothing. But getting a little confidence early on could work wonders when the Chunichi youngsters finally get their chance when the games count.

In remembrance: The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Hanshin Tigers used their Wednesday exhibition game as an opportunity to honor late pitching great Shigeru Kobayashi.

Kobayashi was a Yomiuri Giants star who was a part of a controversial trade with the Tigers that brought Suguru Egawa to Tokyo.

Kobayashi won the Sawamura Award in 1977 with the Giants and in 1979 with the Tigers, compiling a 139-95 record, 17 saves and 3.18 ERA in an 11-year career.

The 57-year-old was serving as the Fighters' pitching coach when he died of heart failure on Jan. 17.

Role reversal: The Hanshin Tigers' recent exhibition against the Orix Buffaloes came with a twist. Celebrated hurler Kyuji Fujikawa was on the mound to start the game.

Fujikawa made his first start in nearly seven years on Sunday, giving up a run on a pair of hits and striking out three in one inning.

The righty is used to coming into games in the ninth season, racking up 127 saves for the Tigers over the past nine seasons.



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