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Watanabe: Lions hitters need to pick it up

by John E. Gibson (Nov 4, 2008)

After two Japan Series games, one thing is clear: The Saitama Seibu Lions aren't leaving the same paw prints they stamped all over the regular season.

Sure, the homer-happy Lions have clubbed three longballs to the Yomiuri Giants' one, but the top of the Seibu order looks stuck in the mud and no one is striking fear in the opponents except hard-hitting No. 3 man Hiroyuki Nakajima.

They were lucky to get a split at the Big Egg ahead of today's Game 3 showdown at Seibu Dome at 6:15 p.m.

The Lions, who clubbed 198 longballs in the regular season, have only scored via the homer as rally after rally has come up short.

Their top two batters are a combined 2-for-13 with two walks, but leadoff man and Pacific League stolen-base leader Yasuyuki Kataoka has both hits, while Takumi Kuriyama, who had 17 steals, has only a pair of walks.

The Lions couldn't touch Yomiuri's bullpen over the final 3-2/3 innings of Game 2, setting the stage for Alex Ramirez's walk-off solo blast in the ninth inning of Sunday's 3-2 Yomiuri victory.

"We have had some pitches to hit, we're just not hitting them," Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe said during Monday's workout at Seibu Dome.

"But we're going to get more pitches to hit. Each player has to understand that and be ready."

As for his suddenly toothless offense--featuring Kataoka, Kuriyama and 0-for-8 cleanup man Takeya Nakamura--Watanabe said: "They'll probably be different tomorrow.

"We're at home so the offense will be pumped up. But we can't do much with just hits here and there, we need to put rallies together."

With the designated hitter rule in effect here, the back-to-back Central League champion Giants need to put a different lineup together. Manager Tatsunori Hara said the DH will be "a two-way" position, meaning a platoon situation.

Injury-slowed Shinnosuke Abe, who has a bad right shoulder but is available for DH or pinch-hitting duties for the Giants, could fill the role, but not likely with a lefty on the mound.

The obvious choice to DH is Ramirez, but the eighth-year left fielder expressed his desire to play in the field.

Another question mark is Giants No. 3 man Michihiro Ogasawara, who took a pitch off his left wrist in Game 2 and skipped batting practice on Monday.

"I'm hoping he can play," Hara said. "I'm just not able to make that decision [right now]." Hara said he was thinking more about his team's emotional Game 2 victory and said winning the second game could give his club some momentum.

"It was good to win like that and make it 1-1 coming into this game."

If the Giants have any momentum, expected Lions Game 3 starter Kazuhisa Ishii will be asked to quell it. The veteran lefty will likely be opposed by southpaw Tetsuya Utsumi.

Ishii allowed a run on five hits and four walks over seven innings in his PL Climax Series outing. Utsumi got no decision after Chunichi got to him for three runs over five innings in his lone postseason start.


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