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Monday, March 7, 2011

NPB NOTEBOOK

Marines putting faith in young duo in 2011


Staff writer

While Tsuyoshi Nishioka prepares for his first year with the Minnesota Twins, the Chiba Lotte Marines are about to begin their season with a noticeable hole at shortstop.

News photo
No spring in his step: Park Chan Ho was knocked around on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

The former Lotte star was among the most valuable players in Japan last season, so the Marines will be hard-pressed to replace him.

That task, for now, falls to second-year players Takashi Ogino and Ikuhiro Kiyota.

Nishioka led the Pa. League with a .346 batting average and finished with 206 hits, 59 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and a .423 on-base percentage last season. He also had a Japanese-baseball best 47.0 wRAA (weighted runs above average, used to help measure offensive value) according to the calculations at Baseball Lab.

Realistically, the Marines weren't likely to get that type of production this season even if Nishioka had stayed with the team.

Still, one of the few positives of his move to the majors is the Marines now have the room to keep both Kiyota and Ogino on the field.

Ogino, an outfielder last season, will take over for Nishioka at shortstop, a position he dabbled in at college.

Injury limited him to 46 games last year, but he still finished fourth in the league with 25 stolen bases and was hitting .326 with 17 RBIs when he got hurt.

His injury helped give Kiyota a chance to play regularly. The Chiba native took advantage of the opportunity, hitting .290 with two homers, 18 RBIs and five stolen bases in 64 games, then had a stellar postseason run.

The Marines will be hoping a full season from the two youngsters helps offset the large void Nishioka's departure left.

Remember the time: New Yomiuri Giants pitcher Brian Bannister's father once played in Japan for the Yakult Swallows. As a result, Bannister spent some time in Japan during his childhood.

He picked up some Japanese during that period, but says he's since forgotten most of it and has a book he uses to help him out.

"The worst part is sometimes I can read the hiragana, but I don't know what the word means," the affable right-hander said.

"I hope it all starts to come back," he joked.

First impressions: Park Chan Ho's first foray into Japanese baseball got off to a rough beginning.

Park started his first exhibition game on Saturday, against the Chunichi Dragons, and the results left a lot to be desired. Park gave up five runs on seven hits over four innings.

"It's regrettable I was only able to throw four innings," Park told reporters. "At the same time, I threw the pitches I wanted to throw. There were 51 strikes and 29 balls. I threw three careless pitches, one of which was a home run. So I'm not worried."

Park is expected to get the ball on Opening Day for Orix.



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