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John E. Gibson

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Houlton has happy landing

by John E. Gibson (Feb 4, 2012)

Coming off a career year, the last thing right-hander D.J. Houlton felt he had to do was make a pitch to the Japan Series-winning Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks for a rewarding offer.

However, after four years in the warmth of Fukuoka, the Yomiuri Giants' offseason free-agent addition said he felt like the Hawks were giving him the cold shoulder.

The 1.91-meter hurler said he thought his numbers spoke volumes. In the end, the offers from SoftBank were too hard to swallow and negotiations simply broke down.

"I never really wanted to leave," Houlton said Thursday night by phone from the Giants camp in Miyazaki.

"After the year I had and the offers I was getting from them, I don't know, I just felt like I was unimportant. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way."

The 32-year-old was 19-6 with a 2.19 ERA last season, but said the only time he felt the Hawks--who also lost No. 1 starter Tsuyoshi Wada to free agency--upped the stakes was when two-time strikeout leader and 2005 Pacific League MVP Toshiya Sugiuchi began clamoring about leaving the organization.

"It was a really tough decision," said Houlton, who reportedly signed a two-year deal in December worth about 400 million yen. "I didn't want to go--all those guys over there are awesome. And moving on to a new team is not the most comfortable thing, but I'm happy I'm here. It was a good decision."

The Southern California native said the Giants hit him with a wave of interest.

"They were on the horn right away and they were really aggressive," Houlton said of the fast-acting Giants, whose 2.61 team ERA was second best in the Central League last season.

"They wanted an answer quick--they didn't want to drag it out," said Houlton, who tied Tohoku Rakuten Eagles' Masahiro Tanaka for the most wins in Japan last year while working a career-high 171-1/3 innings.

"Maybe it was about a week from the start to the finish. The Giants really wanted me and I didn't feel like it was something I was getting from the Hawks."

Instead, the Giants ended up getting a lot from the Hawks, turning a free-agent double play by acquiring Houlton then snapping up Sugiuchi.

"I don't really know what happened with him and the Hawks, but I'm surprised he's here," Houlton said. "He's such a good pitcher. It's nice to have him on the same team."

Houlton, who before last year had only won in double digits in 2009, and Sugiuchi mean the Giants will parade a number of front-line starters to the mound each week.

"We've got some guys who can throw," said Houlton. "I think that [Hirokazu] Sawamura is pretty good, obviously [Tetsuya] Utsumi is pretty good, [Shun] Tono is good--I think we're going with six guys--and it seems like we're pretty loaded."

Entering his fifth year in Japan and joining a new club, Houlton didn't dare set the bar too high for himself with his personal goals.

"Realistically I'd just like to make all my starts--stay in the rotation the whole year and don't get injured and don't get sent down--and get double-digit wins," said Houlton, who was 3-2 with a 2.20 ERA against the CL last year. "It'd be nice if I could get 15, or so, but I don't want to set too many goals right now, I just want to get through spring training."

"I guess the parks are a little smaller and I don't know the hitters too well, so I'm going to have learn a bit, but they're going to have to learn how I pitch."

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Flu KOs Nakahata on 2nd day

Just two days into spring camp, first-year Yokohama DeNA BayStars manager Kiyoshi Nakahata was down and out--literally.

The team said the energetic Nakahata had contracted influenza and had to miss workouts. The former Yomiuri Giants infielder complained of a sore throat during an afternoon practice on Thursday and was diagnosed with influenza.

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CL mulls announcing starters

The Central League is considering a plan to announce its starting pitchers, it was learned Friday.

The CL operations department met late last month and made the suggestion as a way of promoting business.

The department pitched the plan to the six teams and will await word from them on the idea, which will likely be on the agenda at the next board of directors meeting.

Starters for every Pacific League game have been announced since 1994.


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