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Rob Smaal

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Giants lead arms race heading into '11 season

by Rob Smaal (Feb 8, 2011)

The Yomiuri Giants will head into the 2011 NPB season with an arms surplus, that much is certain. After finishing a disappointing third in the Central League in 2010, the free-spending Giants loaded up on pitching over the offseason.

Right-hander Shun Tono and lefty Tetsuya Utsumi are good bets to make manager Tatsunori Hara's starting rotation, but after that the competition could be tough for the remaining three or four spots.

To shore up their pitching corps, the Giants opened camp with close to 10 hurlers carrying foreign passports. Returning to the club are right-handed veteran starters Seth Greisinger and Dicky Gonzalez, and they will be joined by newcomers Brian Bannister, Carlos Torres and Jonathan Albaladejo, all righties in their late 20s. Another right-hander, Levi Romero, is also in the mix and Adam Bright, a 26-year-old left-hander from Australia, is working out with the Giants' developmental squad.

This list, lengthy as it is, does not include reliever Micheal Nakamura, who grew up in Australia, or Taiwanese prospects Lin Yi-hao and Huang Chih-lung, who both got a sniff with the big club last year.

"Everybody knows there's competition," Greisinger said by phone Sunday from the Giants' spring camp in Miyazaki. "We're all in the same boat and we all get along really well so it's not like anyone's really rooting against anyone. We're all hoping each other does well. In a best-case scenario we all pitch well and make Hara's job even more difficult in choosing the pitchers."

Greisinger, 35, who is coming off an injury-hampered 2010 season that included surgery on his pitching elbow for the second time in his career, said there would likely be a lot of two-way traffic between the "ichi-gun" club and the minors this year.

"We do have quite a few pitchers (in camp)," said the two-time CL wins leader. "Some of them they're looking at more long-term, others they're looking at to have an immediate impact. It should be interesting to see how it all shakes out. If everyone stays healthy, I would imagine that pitchers will probably be going up and down quite frequently."

Over the offseason, the Giants also traded righty Wirfin Obispo to the Nippon-Ham Fighters and released veteran free-agent closer Marc Kroon, who signed with the San Francisco Giants.

Albaladejo, a hard-throwing Puerto Rican who racked up 43 saves for the New York Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre last season, looks like a good fit to replace Kroon in the closer's role. Last year, Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Daisuke Ochi picked up five saves apiece when Kroon was out injured or when Hara simply lost confidence in his stopper.

Greisinger, who was 0-2 in just six starts in 2010, but came through with a couple of good performances in the playoffs, is anticipating that Hara will go with a six-man rotation this season.

"You're talking Utsumi, Tono, two foreigners, I would imagine, then two more Japanese guys," he said. "Maybe (Shugo) Fujii and (Hideki) Asai are the front-runners right now, given what they did last year. Then there's a rookie (top pick Hirokazu Sawamura) who's been impressive, turning some heads as well, so you just never know."

One thing that all the Giants pitchers can be thankful for is NPB's decision to go with one standard type of baseball this season, a model that is produced by Mizuno and is designed not to travel quite as far as balls used in the past. That is music to the ears of pitchers who play often in the homer-friendly Tokyo Dome.

"I like the new ball," Greisinger said. "It's got lower seams and it will be nice to use a universal ball so we don't have to keep adjusting to the different types. Also, the restricted flight should keep a few more balls from leaving the Dome."


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