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Rob Smaal

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Surplus of outfielders in Giants' spring camp

by Rob Smaal (Feb 17, 2010)

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara is putting his players through their paces at camp in Miyazaki, the last year the club will spend its full spring training camp there.

Starting next year, the reigning NPB champions will split their camp between Miyazaki and Okinawa after a new stadium was built for the club in Naha.

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To mark the team's first NPB title since 2002 last season, the Giants printed up ballcaps bearing the club's logo and the phrase "The Greatest Baseball Team" in large gold lettering on the front. Nothing like a little humility, fellas. I guess they really are the Yankees of Japan.

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There should be plenty of competition for jobs in the Yomiuri outfield this season. Veteran Alex Ramirez, Yoshiyuki Kamei, Yoshitomo Tani, Tetsuya Matsumoto and Takahiro Suzuki are all back and a couple of new names have been thrown into the mix. Veteran Yoshinobu Takahashi has been swinging the bat well in camp after being limited to just one game in 2009 and 91 the previous season with a bad back, and newcomer Hisayoshi Chono, a 25-year-old who joined the club from Honda in the Industrial League, is making quite an impression on the coaching staff so far.

If Takahashi can stay off the DL for a change, he could provide some extra pop in the heart of the Giants order--but that's a big "if."

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On Tuesday, Hara had both Ramirez and Takahashi taking ground balls at first base for much of the afternoon along with Lee Seung-yeop. Rami, a superb hitter but not generally noted for his defense in left field, said he doubted he would see much action at first this season.

"The last time I played the infield was for one inning at first base with the Pirates back in 2000," Ramirez said. "We have so many good first basemen on this team, why take a chance with me? But if the manager wants me to practice there, it's up to him."

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RHP Dicky Gonzalez is pretty much a lock to get the ball as the Giants' Opening Day starter, based on his 15-2 record and 2.11 ERA from last season. Also vying for spots in the starting rotation are fellow-lefties Shugo Fujii, who joins the club from the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Tetsuya Utsumi and Tetsuya Yamaguchi. The right-handers are expected to be Shun Tono and Wirfin Obispo.

Yamaguchi, who chalked up 20 wins over the past two seasons out of the bullpen, is being converted to a starter this year after veteran left-hander Hisanori Takahashi left as a free agent and joined the New York Mets on a one-year minor-league deal. Yamaguchi says he is still trying to "pace himself" as a starter after being accustomed to coming into a game in relief and going full bore from the first pitch.

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One player going through a frustrating camp is right-handed starter Seth Greisinger. The two-time CL wins leader has not pitched for the club since Sept. 29 last season due to pain in his pitching elbow.

The injury has not responded adequately to rest and Greisinger has thrown very little in camp so far. The 34-year-old American, who had Tommy John surgery on the same elbow in 1999, is hoping for the best, but at this stage both he and the club are mulling their options. It's possible that Greisinger will not be ready to pitch by Opening Day.


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