Spring Training 2017 – 3rd Cool* News

* The Japanese use the word クール (from the French cours = course / installment / season) to divide the spring training sessions into parts. But since クール is usually used to mean “cool” I have turned it into a cool headline. Hope the クール factor isn’t lost on you!

Happy Valentine’s Day, my western world friends! Today is a day off for the players, so it’s a perfect chance for them to pack on a few grams of fat from the chocolate that adoring female fans gave them yesterday. Here’s what has gone down the past few days at the two camps.

Ginoza, Okinawa – Top Squad

The winner of the Valentine’s Day chocolate sweepstakes is… coach Akihiro Yano! He received 11 gifts from the ladies despite being 48 and happily married. Second place went to manager Tomoaki Kanemoto (9), followed by Takashi Toritani (8). Coach Katsuo Hirata tied with Atsushi Nohmi and Fumihito Haraguchi (yes, a single guy at last!) for fourth with 5. (For the record, these totals are just the packages that arrived at the team’s accommodations. Not the ones given out at camp.) Anyways, enough of the fluffy news. Here’s the stuff you all care about.

First, reliever Marcos Mateo, who had left Japan to deal with a family issue, returned after just a 6-day absence. He is back with the squad in Okinawa and will resume workouts on the 16th. He says he even worked out a little in the Dominican Republic while he was back, and coaches say he looks to be in good shape still.

Speaking of relievers joining the club for the 4th cool, Rafael Dolis has reached an agreement with the club and will be “tested” during the upcoming exhibition game on the 22nd. If he throws well enough, the team will officially announce his signing, it seems.

While we’re reporting about Dominican relievers, let’s talk about the third. Roman Mendez has been drawing a ton of attention from outside scouts. The Swallows guy says his motion and stuff reminds them of Tony Barnette, who excelled for several years before returning to MLB at the start of last season. During batting practice, Mendez threw to Taiga Egoshi and Fumiya Araki. Of the 32 pitches he threw, 15 were swung at and 6 strikes were looked at. Those 17 swings produced 0 hits and just one ball out of the infield. Obviously the hitters are still warming up and getting their swings back, but Mendez also said he was throwing at about 80-85% of his full strength. Looks like we could have a good battle for closer.

Yoshio Itoi (right knee) has started throwing from long distances and taking more swings as well. (Reports have him at 330 swings on the 13th. Some off the tee, some soft toss, some from a pitching machine. Someone’s counting them all!) He has not yet taken full outdoor batting practice from live pitchers, but day that appears to be drawing nearer. While playing catch with Nohmi, the southpaw was surprised at how hard Itoi threw. (Keep in mind, when he was drafted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, Itoi was a pitcher.)

The team played its first exhibition game on February 11. Facing the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, here were some of the standouts:

Shintaro Fujinami pitched extremely well, retiring all 6 batters he faced, including two strikeouts. He continues to use WBC regulation balls in preparation for the tournament.

Fumiya Hojoh collected three hits, including two doubles. The young shortstop is getting a lot more attention from opposing teams’ scouts this spring than he did last year.

Eric Campbell went 0-for-2 including a reverse K against starter Shota Imanaga. He also flied out to center.

Koyo Aoyagi struggled mightily with his control, hitting one batter and walking two others over the course of two innings of work. He allowed two of the four runs scored against the Tigers, and was hung with the loss.

First round pick Yusuke Ohyama also went hitless in the game. His fellow draftee, fifth rounder Kento Itohara, also went hitless, and was replaced by a pinch runner after being plunked in the sixth. However, in a previous intrasquad game, Itohara collected two hits, an RBI and a stolen base as he makes his case for a spot on the top squad at season’s start.

Yutaro Itayama had the team’s lone RBI in a 4-1 loss. Kanemoto does not seem to mind the result but hopes the players learned something while watching a hard-swinging BayStars team triumph.

It should also be noted that for the second straight cool, Masahiro Nakatani was named MVP. His swing has really improved, according to Kanemoto. The first cool MVP? Minoru Iwata gave up 5 runs in 2 innings in an intrasquad game and is back to square one. Or zero. Poor guy.

Aki, Kochi – Second Squad

Slugger and nominated cleanup hitter Naomasa Yohkawa got three hits in an exhibition game against Seibu on Sunday. However, neither he nor manager Masayuki Kakefu were satisfied with his performance. Yohkawa said, “Even though I ended up with three hits, I wasn’t satisfied with the connection I made on any of them.” Kakefu commented that the third baseman should aim to be “a .280 hitter with 20 HRs instead of a .300 hitter with 10 HRs” and that to reach this goal, he’ll have to be able to draw 80 to 100 walks.

Ryota Arai has been practicing extra in the field in an attempt to make himself a viable choice for a spot on the top roster come season’s start. He fielded 150 balls at third in one session.

Twenty-fifteen 3rd round pick Daichi Takeyasu threw a 110-pitch bullpen. He is doing what he can to get the attention of Kakefu and the coaching staff, as he attempts to make the top squad roster as well. He is the lone 2015 draftee (out of six guys) who did not see any action on the top team last year.

Ludicrous Story of the Cool

Will Kosuke Fukudome be converted to second base? The soon-to-be-40 year old was taking grounders from second earlier in the week, which caused some speculation on the part of some foolish media writers. Ah, anything to sell a story.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.