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Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

SPORTS SCOPE

Hara needs to show patience as Giants try to bounce back


One could only imagine the thoughts running through Tatsunori Hara's mind as he watched his Yomiuri Giants blow a five-run lead against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Sunday.

Jason Coskrey

For the Kyojin manager, it's been a familiar sight in a season where nothing has gone as expected.

One might expect heads to roll and big changes to be made in the aftermath of Yomiuri's latest shortcoming. The better solution, however, might be to show a little restraint.

The Kyojin have dug a considerable hole for themselves this year, entering the week in fifth place, 10 games behind the league-leading Swallows.

Adding insult to injury is the Birds' 9-4-4 mark against Japan's glamour club.

That's all helped make Hara unusually skittish this year as he rushes to plug the holes in what is usually the league's most sturdy ship.

The Giants have had their troubles, but Hara can point the finger at himself for some of that.

His constant shuffling of players has helped create an atmosphere of insecurity, leaving players in fear of banishment to the bench — at best — for every little miscue or slump.

Not exactly an environment conducive to growth.

Which is why Hara needs to go against the usual Yomiuri modus operandi and take a step back for a second.

He's had to navigate a maelstrom of falling offensive numbers, shaky starting pitching, and most recently, sniping from his own front office this season.

Still, the team's postseason aspirations are well intact and a pennant run, though unlikely, isn't out of the question either.

In recent weeks Hara has, through shrewdness or dumb luck, made a few moves that could get the team on the right track.

Putting Kentaro Nishimura into the rotation was a move made out of necessity, but it's played out like a stroke of genius. The righty has gone 3-0 and allowed just four runs in 27 innings in his last four starts.

Hara has also thrown pitcher Dicky Gonzalez back into the mix to solid results.

In the bullpen, Hara's spinning wheel of closers has landed on Yuya Kubo, a good pitcher with the talent to grow into the role.

The Giants have also addressed their issues with struggling superstar Michihiro Ogasawara, dropping him in the lineup, while moving star No. 4 hitter Alex Ramirez up to third in the order.

That left Hisayoshi Chono, in the midst of a breakout campaign, to man the cleanup spot.

Many thought Chono was the No. 4 hitter of the future, but he's assumed the role ahead of schedule and is playing well.

The new offensive reality Japanese baseball has found itself in is forcing the Giants to, reluctantly, change how they approach things.

Hara has made good decisions recently, but he needs to stay the course in the face of adversity.

Players perform better when they can play without looking over their shoulders every night.

The Giants manager may be on the hot seat, but he should be reducing the pressure his players are under, not increasing it.

More than that, the Yomiuri skipper needs to trust in his own track record. He's enjoyed success recently by giving his young players room to develop.

Something that too often gets lost in Japanese baseball is the perils of over-management.

It's necessary to shake things up once in a while, but sometimes the best moves turn out to be the ones you don't make.



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