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Rob Smaal

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Blanco clears fences

by Rob Smaal (Feb 20, 2010)

Chunichi slugger Tony Blanco was up to his old tricks Friday at Dragons camp.

The big Dominican crushed about a dozen balls completely out of the ballpark during batting practice. Lesson to be learned: Don't park your car beyond the bleachers at Chatan Park Baseball Stadium when Blanco is taking his cuts.

If the club decides to charge Tony for the lost balls, he should have plenty in the bank to cover costs after inking a new deal that will pay him a reported 153 million yen this season, over five times his salary from 2009. Blanco was handed the hefty pay raise after leading the Central League in both home runs (39) and RBIs (110) his first year in Japan. Tyrone who?

* * *

Taiwanese lefty Chen Wei-yin was working on his new forkball at camp, a pitch that could make him an even more dangerous weapon in manager Hiromitsu Ochiai's arsenal this season. He used his new splitter to whiff Blanco during a simulated game.

The 24-year-old Chen, a starter who is coveted by many MLB clubs, had a league-best 1.54 ERA in 2009 for the Drags and struck out 146 batters in 164 innings pitched.

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The Dragons and the Yakult Swallows are scheduled to officially open the "open-sen," season as the exhibition games are known here, on Saturday at Chatan, weather permitting.

* * *

Chunichi played a practice game Thursday against the SK Wyverns, falling 9-3 to the South Korean club. Former Chunichi outfielder Koichi Sekikawa is a coach with the Wyverns and ex-NPB pitcher Ken Kadokura, who spent some time with Chunichi, is also on the staff.

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Over in Miyazaki, Yomiuri Giants record-setting closer Marc Kroon is far from a happy camper.

Kroon, who had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in 2000 before he resurrected his career in Japan, had bone chips removed from that same elbow on Dec. 2 and he has been on a rehab program in camp so far. He has yet to throw off a mound.

"It's frustrating sitting around and watching everyone else work out," Kroon said this week. "I'm just hoping to be ready by Opening Day. The doctor said it would take two to three months. This is just the second time in my career I haven't been able to participate (fully) in spring training and it's the first time since my Tommy John surgery. The good news is we have six weeks until Opening Day."

If Kroon can't go, the Giants have plenty of backup. Former Seibu Lions closer Kiyoshi Toyoda is available and Micheal Nakamura, a former Pacific League saves leader, is an option. Hara, however, is said to be favoring using either relief ace Daisuke Ochi in the role or newly acquired ex-Lotte closer Masahide Kobayashi, or a combination of the two.

* * *

Some players at Giants camp were able to get in a little golf on their day off earlier this week. When asked who the best golfer on the club was, Nakamura did not hesitate.

"Hara-san," replied the reliever. "Our manager is a scratch golfer."


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