The number of injuries to big-name Giants has forced many Yomiuri fans to tap the touch screen hastily to find out about players in the lineup at game time this season.
Youngsters such as Taishi Ota, who had two hits in Wednesday's 2-1 interleague loss to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Daisuke Fujimura, who had three hits, and Daisuke Takahashi don't really instill fan confidence when they're at the plate.
Not exactly names like Guts (Michihiro Ogasawara) and captain Shinnosuke Abe who tore a right calf muscle in the preseason. It was that injury, sidelining the perennial All-Star catcher for the first five weeks of the season, that yanked backup Ken Kato out of the shadows and temporarily pushed him into spotlight.
The 30-year-old has spent much of his 12-plus-year career toiling as a fixture on the Yomiuri bench and sometimes farmhand. From Opening Day, he platooned with Kazunari Tsuruoka in an attempt to patch the hole left by a player whose offense and defense at his position are unmatched in either league.
Kato said he wasn't out to match Abe in that respect, and his 5-for-32 performance at the plate didn't stop many from craving a quick Abe return.
"Offensively, I probably didn't get the results--I kept wanting to get a hit so badly--but I feel like I contributed a little toward the end before Abe returned," Kato said Tuesday at Tokyo Dome.
And, no surprise, he drew his share of criticism for the way he called games.
"Well, that just comes with the position," said the Niigata native. "You listen carefully, accept what you can and then move on. It's up to you how to deal with it," he said.
The usually happy-go-lucky Kato, who had played in 16 games over the past two years, has two seasons worth of appearances already--18.
"This wasn't the first time I had to step in--I've done it before many times, but this is certainly the longest period of time I've played. It was good experience for me," Kato said.
The Giants went 6-5-1 in games Kato started and were 6-8 with Tsuruoka behind the plate from the first pitch. Tsuruoka went 9-for-44 without an extra-base hit or RBI, while Kato had a double and a homer and drove in five. But those combined figures nothing close to what Abe can produce.
"I'm one of the closest people to Abe and I see what he does all the time," Kato said. "And I know I really have to work on a number of areas and take my play to a higher level.
"It's great that I got the chance to play like this and have a greater appreciation of how difficult each game can be. But I want to make sure I put this experience to good use and that I'm ready the next time I'm called upon."
When asked about the best part of his stint as platoon starter, Kato didn't point to his third career homer--and first since Aug. 6, 2008. Instead, he talked about the simple act of celebrating a victory.
"The thing that's most fun is high-fiving the moment the game is over," said Kato, whose career high in games played in a season is 28.
"It doesn't matter how many times you have that feeling, it's always good."
Kato, whose fun-loving nature makes him a welcome presence in a high-pressure situation, said he will continue to do his homework and stay ready to contribute when the next chance comes.
"With this position, you can't sit behind the plate and not know what you're going to do. The scouts do a lot of work to collect data and I always study it. I'm always prepared to play."