/ |

Feisty Johjima shoots from the hip

by Kaz Nagatsuka

SAN DIEGO — We all know how outspoken Kenji Johjima can be. He never gives noncommittal, harmless words in front of the media. Instead, he replies with unexpected answers.

After Japan’s clear-cut 6-0 victory over Cuba, in which he helped starter Daisuke Matsuzaka’s masterful pitching from behind the plate, the 32-year-old catcher spoke even more fluently before he left the stadium.

“We were talking that we weren’t going to change our style of pitching no matter what stadium we play at,” said Johjima, responding to a question asking if he and Matsuzaka consulted each other over how they would manage the slugging Cuban team at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park.

In other words, Johjima and Matsuzaka just focused on doing the best they could.

“We only reviewed (the Cuban team) in the (data) book and on the DVD a bit,” he said.

Johjima said that Matsuzaka was just awesome on Sunday, and their approach against Cuba’s mighty offense worked out as they intended.

“(Matsuzaka’s) fastballs were outstanding,” Johjima said. “When we were facing the first round of their lineup, we used two-seamers (inside), and then in the second round on, we went with outside pitches.”

If you asked backstops on a winning side whether it feels good to catch the ball, most wouldn’t admit it. But you don’t expect a stereotypical reply from this Seattle Mariner, who is playing on the national team for the first time since the 2004 Athens Olympics.

In his defense, Johjima said that with a smile. But when a reporter asked the question, Johjima responded by saying, “Why do you think I had to feel good? My job is to make my pitcher feel good.

“If we give up runs and lose, then it’s fine that I am accused of it.”

Johjima, who has hit in the No. 8 spot in the lineup for Samurai Japan, has been red hot with a .500 batting average (7-for-14) with two RBIs, and that fact may tame his tone a bit.

Or maybe not. Even after the win, Johjima seemed a bit angry as he was speaking to the media.

Johjima, who had two hits on Sunday, started talking about Katsuya Nomura, a former catching great and the current Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager, because the 73-year-old Nomura has been consistently critical of him since early in his career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Nomura blamed Johjima in a Japanese sports newspaper, suggesting that he was responsible for giving up Japan’s only run in the loss against South Korea in the final Pool A game of the first round at Tokyo Dome on March 9.

It is unclear whether Johjima read or heard about it. But anyway, Johjima began lambasting Nomura, saying “Nomura will still rip me,” even with his defensive performance against Cuba.

The reason?

“Because we’ve given up about eight hits,” Johjima said. “And he would always hit 1.000 at the plate, right?”

To be precise, yes, Johjima was right on the number of hits Japan gave up in the game, and Nomura’s lifetime average is .277 (with 657 homers, the second-highest total in Nippon Professional Baseball history).