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THE HOT CORNER: Skipper Oya: Don't give up the ship

by Jim Allen (Jul 17, 2008)

It's easy to bash the BayStars, whose Central League season is skidding toward one of the worst records in recent years.

Before the season started, the front half of the Yokohama rotation looked pretty good. Vastly underrated Daisuke Miura was going to be backed by Hayato Terahara and Japan's oldest player, lefty Kimiyasu Kudo.

Asked in March who would make up the back end of his rotation, skipper Akihiko Oya good-naturedly joked: "I don't know, do you have any suggestions?"

Oya might have been laughing at the time, but it wasn't long before his principle role was damage control.

Kudo was deactivated after one game. Terahara was fairly ineffective in four starts and Oya figured he'd be more useful as the club's closer. Miura pitched as predicted through his first seven starts. The 34-year-old was 2-4 with a 1.92 ERA, while the 'Stars offense scored 2.57 runs per game. Then things went wrong and after his ninth start, the right-hander joined Kudo on the inactive list.

Last Friday at Tokyo Dome, Oya said he'd never been on a team so hard hit.

"It has been bad, but you know what we say in Japan about being in a pinch? After every pinch comes a chance," Oya said. "Well we are in a pinch, and this is a chance."

Because Oya and his men are navigating dire straits, nowhere is there more opportunity for advancement than in Yokohama. Watching the team's pre-game practice, most people really can't tell the players without a scorecard.

"We have a lot of young guys who see this as their opportunity," said Oya.

But while he has a young team, his double play combination is on the far side of the mound.

Shortstop Takuro Ishii is 37, second baseman Toshihisa Nishi 36. Third baseman Shuichi Murata is 27 and agile, but hardly fleet of foot. Because of this it would make sense if they didn't get to as many balls as their rivals.

"Other people might think that, but I don't," Oya said. "Considering the players who are available, they are the best we have."

Oya has to be one of the most positive thinkers in the BayStars' cosmos, but that doesn't mean his infield is made of shining stars. And when it comes to ground balls, the BayStars infield is simply not getting outs as often as other teams.

The chances of getting a hit this season on a ground ball against a CL team this year is .262. The Chunichi Dragons are the best in the league, with their opponents batting .251 on grounders. Although they are in the Pacific League, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters remain in a defensive league of their own. The PL norm is .257 and Fighters' opponents have hit just .218 on the ground.

The BayStars, however, are at the other end of the continuum. Regardless of what Oya says, opponents hit a Japan-high .277 on ground balls against his slow and ancient mariners. Since Oya's pitchers don't strike batters out--their 467 strikeouts through Tuesday were the fewest in either league--opposing batters have more opportunities against his fragile defense.

Add a patchwork pitching staff to a limp offense and a BayStars' game is a shipwreck waiting to happen.

New right-hander Mike Wood, who is 1-8 with a 4.68 ERA, has some good pitches and has frequently performed well with little to show for it in the way of wins.

"He hasn't won because we haven't scored for him," Oya said. "It's kind of the same old story for us. We don't get the big hit we need."

Whether it is the light at the end of the tunnel or not, things are looking a little brighter in Yokohama.

Terahara has been solid as the closer and a dynamite setup duo has the BayStars bullpen firing on all cylinders. A recent trade brought reliever Yuya Ishii from the Dragons. The hearing-impaired strikeout artist has been superb in his hometown as the left-handed setup man to go with sharp youngster Michiomi Yoshihara.

Miura is likely to be back for the second half, which will be a boost. And if anyone deserves a boost, it's Oya.

"Nobody is hanging their heads around here," Oya said. "We are trying our hardest, and holding our heads high.

"If you don't do that, there's no reason to even show up."


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