The Chunichi Dragons' double-play combination of Masahiro Araki and Hirokazu Ibata have been their pitchers' best friends for years.
But even one of the top combinations up the middle in Japan Pro Baseball history was asked to make a sacrifice for the team.
Skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai asked Ibata, a 35-year-old who has won six straight Golden Glove Awards at short, and Araki, a 32-year-old who also won the last six Golden Glove Awards at second, to switch positions this year.
And they've done so with a smooth transition--and their usual grace.
Ochiai said the pair would make the change last season, but just before Opening Day, they were back in their original spots and on the way to golden accolades.
"We took into consideration Ibata's age and the wear and tear that playing short takes on his body, and that's one reason we made the change," said bench coach Hatsuhiko Tsuji before Chunichi took on the Saitama Seibu Lions in interleague action at Seibu Dome on Friday.
"But Araki has more range and that's something we really looked at, and we finally made the decision to move him."
Araki, in his 15th season, has made the crossover, but he hasn't exactly arrived yet as a shortstop for the Dragons, in third place in the Central League.
"Oh, he has had his issues," Tsuji said with a chuckle. "He has been a second baseman all these years. Now when he gets the ball, there isn't much time before he has to get rid of it.
"He struggled initially with the throws, but he has really come around recently."
Ibata, a 13-year player who was deactivated May 5 after taking a pitch to ribs in a May 1 game, rejoined the Dragons Friday. Araki laughed off the idea of replacing him as the Golden Glove recipient at shortstop, but said he's working to improve.
"I'm still not anywhere near perfect, but I'm more used to the position now," said Araki, a shortstop who was forced into the outfield when he came up with the Dragons in 1997.
"At first, I was so nervous--it was like I had never played baseball before.
"It's not like I had never been at shortstop, but it had been so long.
"We'll have to see where I am at the end of the season. Second base is so close [to first] it's not much of a throw. So I just want to get used to the throws you make at short."
Araki, who has six errors, often called himself the weak link in the combination and relied on Ibata to make him a better player.
Araki said he wasn't able to offer Ibata's replacement, Tatsuro Iwasaki, the same kind of tutoring he got from the reigning Golden Glove winner.
"It didn't matter who was out there. I was so caught up in what I had to do that I didn't have time to worry about what was going around me," Araki joked.
Tsuji said Iwasaki, a .205 hitter, doesn't need any help in the field.
"Wherever we put Iwasaki, he does a good job," Tsuji said. "He plays defense at a high level, whether it's at short or at second.
"He also has some speed, so if he gets his batting in order, he has the ability to be an everyday player."