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Big Unit at large in Japan

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Big Unit at large in Japan

by Jim Allen (Apr 20, 2010)

Randy Johnson's Japanese baseball career came and went on Tuesday at Tokyo Dome.

When asked if he had considered managing here, the five-time Cy Young Award-winner told the local media he came to Japan as "a player for one day, one pitch."

Johnson, who threw that pitch prior to the game between the Rakuten Eagles and Chiba Lotte Marines, said he didn't expect to hit 160 kph on the radar gun.

"I'm not going to throw 100 [miles per hour]," he said. "I'm 46 years old and my baseball days are behind me. I still enjoy talking about baseball to young pitchers, and a couple of days ago, I talked to [Kimiyasu] Kudo-san. I can't pitch that well anymore because I'm older, but I still enjoy talking pitching."

The Big Unit was at Seibu Dome on Saturday where he hooked up with Kudo, also 46, and rehabilitating after rejoining the Saitama Seibu Lions over the winter.

"I worked out in Phoenix and with Kudo on a couple of different occasions," Johnson said of Japan's oldest active player, who was released last winter by the Yokohama BayStars. "He worked out at the same facility [where] I worked out.

"Checking in, seeing how he's doing, try and encourage him. When you get to be in your mid-40s it gets harder to recover.

"I know he has a lot of pride. And a lot of Japanese players and media know how good he once was and as you get older it's harder to live up to those expectations. So I just told him I hope he gets healthy and gets back to pitching."

Earlier in the afternoon at Tokyo Dome, Johnson had a chance to talk with 21-year-old Eagles star Masahiro Tanaka.

"[I] gave him some encouragement," Johnson said. "I played in the major leagues 20 years. As a young player, you're going to have some good moments and some bad. Just try to remain positive all the time and work hard."

Although he won 303 games and was known for his overpowering fastball and slider, the 2.08-meter Johnson knows a thing or two about struggling as a youngster.

"I was a late bloomer, if you will. It took me a while to come into my own," he said. "My height, actually in the middle and late in my career helped me a lot, but early in my career it was very difficult for me to master my mechanics because I was so tall.

"All arms and legs. Most pitchers, as you know, aren't 6 feet 10 inches, they're about 6'3" [1.91 meters] or 6'4", 6'6" [1.98 meters] is probably the tallest. So it took me a while to harness my mechanics. But when I did, good things happened.

"But I was constantly having to work at that. So as time went on, and I got older, my velocity wasn't what it once was. I started to have more injuries. It was increasingly harder to recover after every fifth day. As we all get older, it's harder to do things. It's a natural progression."

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