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Let's get it started / Giants begin drive for 3rd straight CL pennant in season-opener against Carp

by Jim Allen (Apr 3, 2009)

Although it means little in the final tally, Opening Day is more significant to the Giants' Michihiro Ogasawara.

"It's important, but when its over, it's just one of 144 games," he said after Yomiuri worked out Thursday ahead of today's opener against the Hiroshima Carp at Tokyo Dome.

"I can't say which of those points I lean toward more, but you want to get off to a good start. You have to take it really seriously, otherwise you can find yourself going downhill in a hurry."

Carp manager Marty Brown echoed the sentiment.

"We've been getting ready for this for two months," Brown said. "All that work, all that sweat, all those meetings, it should feel important. It's only one game, but it's the start."

The Giants' start takes place amid question marks about a pitching staff that is without departed ace Koji Uehara.

"We're going to start the season and see how things shape up," manager Tatsunori Hara said of his starting rotation. "I expect some guys to rise to the occasion.

"I really believe you'll see it in the eyes of some of our young pitchers when they go to the mound."

Hara is also putting outfielder Yasuyuki Kamei in the hot seat by opening the season with the 26-year-old as his leadoff hitter. Last year's sparkplug, Takahiro Suzuki, will bat second.

"I think they'll have something to show us in the top two spots," Hara said.

Each team is expected to go with its best starting pitcher from last season: The Giants with Seth Greisinger and the Carp with Colby Lewis.

Asked if he had any specific tactics to deal with a pitcher who has led the Central League in wins in both of his seasons in Japan, Brown said he wasn't too worried about the other guys.

"We've hit Seth bad in the past," Brown said. "There's not one of their pitchers we haven't beat before. And Colby's Colby. If they adjust to him, he'll adjust.

"They're staying with their strengths and we're going with our strengths. That's why it's going to be a good matchup."

Last season, the Carp were 12-10 against the Giants, who are aiming at a third straight league title, and 4-1 in the Greisinger's five starts against Hiroshima. Lewis was 3-1 last year against the Giants.

"They're a good team, a team to be respected," Brown said.

He added, however, that Yomiuri was just another opponent.

"When I first came here, it was like, 'Oh no, we're playing the Giants,'" Brown said. "We don't look at the Giants as being any different from the BayStars or the Swallows. Whether it's the Giants, Swallows or BayStars, we've got to play our brand of baseball."

Hara said it was important for his guys to be confident in their teammates and aggressive in their play.

"Each and every player must go out and play his game without ever forgetting that he is part of a strong team," Hara said.

"We are all aiming to be No. 1 in Japan. To do that, we have to attack, we can't sit back and play defensively. We have to continuously challenge ourselves."

One of the challenges faced by the Giants is having five players and two coaches just back from the World Baseball Classic, in which Hara managed Japan's winning effort.

Ogasawara, who homered in both of his preseason games last weekend after returning from international duty, said the club was clicking despite so many players being absent for so long.

"I think the atmosphere is really good. We're all pulling together," he said. "Everyone is excited and ready to go. I myself am not in bad condition. I think I have been able to push my reset button."

Despite a fresh look at the top of the Giants' order, Ogasawara believes nothing has really changed.

"Those guys know what's expected of them," he said. "They set the table for me and the other guys in the middle. We do our part and set up the guys behind us.

"The new season is long and full of possibilities, but you can't focus on things down the road. We have to concentrate on the one game we have to play next."


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