J-Slanted: Spring is in the Air

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By JORDAN IKEDA
Sports Editor

As opening day for the 2010 MLB season looms less than a week away we’ll take a brief look at some of the storylines out there.

The Oakland A’s seem poised to offer starting catcher, Kurt Suzuki a long-term deal at some point this season that should lock him up through at least 2013. Suzuki, who just might be the most complete catcher behind all-universe stud Joe Mauer, led the A’s in RBIs last year while also guiding one of the Major’s youngest pitching staffs to respectability. If he can stay healthy, he might be poised for an all-star caliber year.

Though he’s hitting .125 in eight at-bats this spring, firstbaseman Travis Ishikawa still has a shot at making San Francisco’s starting day roster, a must if he plans on sticking with the Giants (and, in the Majors) seeing as how he’s out of minor league options. The reasoning? His defense. Aubrey Huff, who was signed in the offseason, has looked shaky at best with his glove.

As somewhat expected, Ryota Igarashi is struggling with the modifications he made to his pitches and the changes he made in his delivery. He’s given up five runs in 9 innings so far in spring training and isn’t any closer to filling the Mets glaring hole at the set-up relief position he expected to assume when he signed on. Good news? He’s hit 95 mph on the speed gun.

On the other hand, Igarashi’s teammate, Hisanori Takahashi, who wasn’t even guaranteed a spot on the ML roster, is making a strong push for the fifth starter’s spot in the Mets rotation. Though he’s yet to pitch more than three innings in a game, he’s been lights out in the opportunities he’s gotten, striking out 10 and giving up only four hits and zero runs in 8.1 innings of work. He’s displayed great command of his assortment of pitches that includes a high-80s fastball that can crack 90 mph, a low 80s sinker as well as a cutter, slider and a breaking ball that doesn’t break 70 mph.

Ichiro Suzuki’s batting .279 in spring training. Kosuke Fukudome is hitting .219, thus far, not an encouraging sign from a man who said his goal is to hit .300 this season. Pittsburgh’s newest second baseman, Akinori Iwamura is struggling with a .200 average while Angels DH Hideki Matsui is batting .182 for his new team, perhaps because a World Series does not hang in the balance in March.

Before March, the Houston Astros basically held an open tryout for anyone willing to step up and take the starting second base gig that had been, off and on, held last season by Kazuo Matsui. Vets Geoff Blum and Jeff Keppinger along with youngin’ Edwin Maysonet were all put on notice.

Ironically, Matsui has been far outperforming all of them. In fact, he’s been hands down the best position player not named Lance Berkman for the Astros this spring. He’s hitting .306 with two long balls, seven RBI and a .960 OPS.

Not only does he have his bat working for him, but he’s also clearly the best defensive option as well as the fastest. Of course, the knock and long-running-joke against Matsui is that he can’t stay healthy. This is a contract year for the $5 million-a-season-man, so there’s a good chance he doesn’t take an extended stay on the disabled list when he catches a case of the sniffles or suffers a bloody nose.

Despite the high salary not worth the production, if Matsui plays well, the Astros will be a better team. If they still aren’t, then they can use his expiring contract to perhaps land a mid-tier prospect or two at the trade deadline. If Matsui doesn’t play well, then Houston can move on with Maysonet and see where he can take them. And if Matsui plays really well for 75 games, sucks for 42, and sits out 45, then we’ll call it a typical Matsui season and wait to see what sucker GM looking to broaden his international market will be transfixed on the allure of that 75-game run and sign a big check to a player who’s odds of sitting out half a season are as certain as taxes and death.

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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu sports editor. He can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.

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