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THE HOT CORNER: Adjustment is the name of the game

by Jim Allen (Aug 27, 2009)

When Nippon Professional Baseball asked managers to complete the sentence, "Baseball is...." at the start of the season, the Carp's Marty Brown said something to the effect of the game being about continuous adjustment.

For the Yomiuri Giants' Alex Ramirez, this has meant, among other things, going to the opposite field. He says that when he first arrived , then-Swallows manager Tsutomu Wakamatsu told him that to succeed, he'd have to go the other way.

"If you don't prove you can hit to the opposite field, you'll never see anything inside," he told The Hot Corner last Saturday at Jingu Stadium.

Going the other way is counterintuitive for hitters expected to hit home runs. The obvious, but risky method, is to try to pull everything in order to hit those home runs. Ramirez singled out Tony Blanco of the Chunichi Dragons as a first-year player with a successful approach, because he goes to all fields.

Although 19 of the Central League home run leader's first 34 jacks went out to left, Blanco has sprayed his 87 singles and doubles all over and hit a very respectable .280 in the process.

Craig Brazell, who joined the Hanshin Tigers this summer, tried to pull too many with the Saitama Seibu Lions last season. Despite hitting 27 homers for the Pacific League champs, his .234 average put him out of work.

This year, Brazell has gone back to his natural style of hitting the ball up the middle. He has added 60 points to his batting average and retained most of his home run production in a very tough park for left-handed power hitters.

"The home runs will come," Ramirez said. "If you hit .300, they'll want you back."

If a player can't adapt his skills to the conditions here, he'll be in trouble.

The pitching corollary to Ramirez's advice for hitters is that new pitchers have to be ready for lineups filled with contact hitters who will not take big swings.

When Stephen Randolph made his first start for the Yokohama BayStars on Aug. 16, it looked like the league was going to have to adjust to him, but that situation changed in a heartbeat.

The 1.89-meter lefty struck out 12 Carp batters and hit a home run in his first at-bat. He got into trouble when he couldn't buy a strike in the seventh inning. He fell behind the first batter 3-0 before walking him on seven pitches. Two more balls brought the pitching coach out. Another ball saw Randolph storming off for a walk around the mound.

"[I was] just a little frustrated," he said. "Now I understand I've got to make more of an adjustment as the game goes on, especially as far as the mounds go, because I'm not used to the softer mounds. The holes get a little bit deeper and you have to make sure you finish your pitches...maybe pitch more to contact later in the game instead of go for a strikeout, try to get the guys to get themselves out.

"There's a lot of foul balls and you have to take that into account when you're pitching. These guys have great eyes, they're real patient at the plate. You have to come up throwing strikes to get them swinging."

Randolph was born in Kadena, Okinawa Prefecture, but his family left when he was an infant. He is keen on coming back next season, so he can go to camp with the BayStars and see where he was born.

To do that, the 35-year-old will have to show between now and October that he's worth the investment.

It's the same for every player, regardless of where he is from, although foreigners generally have less margin for error.

One guy on the edge is BayStars slugger Dan Johnson. A left-handed hitter with some power, Johnson has always walked nearly as often as he has struck out. Here, his walks and his average have declined while his strikeouts have soared.

His power has also been hurt at Yokohama Stadium by a billboard that makes it harder for him to pick up right-handers' pitches. Although the stadium boosts other lefty-swingers' home run power against right-handed pitching, it has seriously cramped Johnson's style.

Since the team won't move a sign that brings in revenue, and the umpires aren't going to change their strike zones, the onus is on the player.

"I have to make the adjustment," he said, "not them."


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