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Lions' Uemoto gradually catches on

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Lions' Uemoto gradually catches on

by Jim Allen (Apr 29, 2010)

The Seibu Lions have a history of turning catchers into power-hitting outfielders, and they are hoping Tatsuyuki Uemoto is the next big hit in their outfield.

The 29-year-old is still splitting his time between catching, as the backup to regular Toru Hosokawa, and the outfield, where he has played in both right and left.

Asked which role he preferred, Uemoto said he was in no position to be picky.

"First of all, I need to be able to stick with the first team," he told The Daily Yomiuri on Wednesday. "So wherever I can play, I will.

"On the other hand, catching a game is exhausting. It's a lot of work. The good thing about catching is that if you win, you are right there, you feel a big part of it, and it's hard to beat that feeling."

The Lions made the corporate league catcher out of Yamaguchi Prefecture their sixth-round pick in 2002, the same year they had cut Kazuhiro Wada loose from his catching chores at the age of 31.

Like Uemoto, Wada had struggled for playing time as a reserve outfielder and backup catcher. Eventually, the Lions realized Wada's bat was too potent to keep on the bench. That year, "Ben" won the first of five straight Pacific League Best IX Awards. Wada, who moved to the Chunichi Dragons as a free agent after the 2007 season, finished a close fourth in the Central League's Best IX voting last year.

In 2007, it was G.G. Sato's turn. The former Philadelphia Phillies farm hand had given up catching to play first base, but that also failed to give him the playing time he needed to develop.

"I don't know if G.G. counts, because he didn't catch with the first team, except in the preseason," Uemoto said.

"The other day someone gave me a newspaper clipping that talked about that and mentioned me along with Wada. I was really happy to get it."

Uemoto did not start a game this season until manager Hisanobu Watanabe sent him out to right field on April 8. He singled in his first at-bat. In his next outfield start, Uemoto went 4-for-4 with a home run.

With that experience in hand, it didn't look like he would see much playing time behind the plate any time soon, but on April 15 that changed suddenly. Hosokawa was hit in the head with a ball in practice. Uemoto was pressed into duty as the Lions' starting catcher for four games.

In his first start of the season behind the plate, Uemoto had three hits and two RBIs as the Lions completed a three-game sweep of the Eagles.

The left-handed hitter began Wednesday's game against the Marines batting .355 but is not all that comfortable with his stroke at the moment.

"It's a few things," he said. "I feel like I'm close to hitting the way I can, but I'm not quite there. I make contact but it's often not solid. I also lay off pitches I should be swinging at."

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