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THE HOT CORNER: Hara's good at what matters most

by Jim Allen (Jul 30, 2009)

Although the Giants hit a skid just before the All-Star Break, Tatsunori Hara is having another good season at the Yomiuri helm because of his success at the things that matters most.

It's not that Hara doesn't sweat the small stuff: He often talks about how a sacrifice bunt is the crucial play in a blowout, while attributing many losses to fairly trivial errors.

It's not like he's a tactical genius with his in-game decisions. No, Hara shines in a manager's most important job: raising the level of the players available to him.

There's no trick to writing Alex Ramirez or Michihiro Ogasawara into the lineup, and one might say a roster of great players can turn any manager into a genius, but it doesn't always work that way.

The Giants' starting lineup on Tuesday had Hayato Sakamoto, Tetsuya Matsumoto, Ogasawara, Ramirez, Yoshiyuki Kamei, Yoshitomo Tani, Shinnosuke Abe, Takuya Kimura and Wirfin Obispo.

Sakamoto is a rising star at the age of 20; Matsumoto was an amateur unknown who was not drafted; Kamei was a fourth-round draft choice, coming into his own at the age of 27; Tani is a veteran who got a second life with the Giants under Hara; Abe is the team's captain but has been hurt much of the year; while Kimura is one of Hara's battalion of useful infielders. Pitcher Obispo, like Matsumoto and star middle reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi, is a product of the Giants' developmental roster.

Four of the nine became regulars under Hara.

Conspicuously absent is first baseman Lee Seung Yeop, who has been relieved at first by an outfielder, Kamei.

Hara's greatest talent is his ability to increase the Giants' talent base by giving unheralded players frequent opportunities to show what they can do. That's how Kamei got where he is today, a hustling fielder who hits with authority in the middle of the lineup.

After being a minor league batting sensation, Kamei struggled in his first opportunities in the Central League. Hara gave him more chances, Kamei kept at it and figured out what he needed to do.

It's the same story with Matsumoto and with infielder Ryota Wakiya. Both failed in their first chances at the top level, went back to the minors and returned as productive players.

The Giants have a first team loaded with big names, but because of Hara, the club is also a land of opportunity for unknown players with ambition.

Hara's ability to bring up young talent allowed the Giants to trade Tomohiro Nioka for more useful players. Although the trade has yet to pay dividends, reliever Micheal Nakamura is a quality pitcher.

All season, the skipper has spoken of the fierce competition among his outfielders and infielders for playing time.

In addition to Ramirez, Matsumoto and Tani, Hara has speedster Takahiro Suzuki, who became a semi-regular under Hara, Kamei and another speedster, Takahito Kudo, who came from the Fighters in the Nioka trade.

The battle to get into games has spilled over to first base, with Kamei learning the position, while Lee practiced hitting at Giants Stadium in Kawasaki.

Every manager talks about having competition at each position so that players have to stay on their toes to stay in the lineup. With Hara it' s more than talk. A lot of managers would think a hundred times before sending Lee down and replacing him with someone just learning the position. But sitting a star in favor of an unknown can pay big dividends when it means youngsters know the road to the top is open to those with talent and ambition.

Although Hara hates mistakes as much as any manager, he doesn't treat small failures like the end of the world, and that might help his guys stay loose.

After a terrific stop at first base a week ago, Kamei said: "It's not like it's OK to make mistakes, but because little is expected of me at first base, I can go all out."

Hara is anything but a tactical wizard, but who would you prefer to run your club, a guy who knows the best time to go to the bench or someone who develops talent by the busload?

Because of the ambition Hara's policies inspire, the Giants are a hustling team with an opportunistic attitude, who are building their future now.


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