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Nakai eager to make impact for Yomiuri

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Daisuke Nakai’s Yomiuri Giants career started with three ugly strikeouts.

The first hit of his career wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty either, but it put a smile on the 19-year-old infielder’s face nonetheless.

The highly touted youngster hit a fourth-inning single into left field against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Monday to record the first hit of his professional career.

“It came in the middle, a bit outside,” he said of the pitch from Kohei Hasebe. “I had missed similar pitches two times in a row before and I had that in my mind. It wasn’t a clean hit and I was a bit lucky.

“I was running as fast as I could, thinking it’d be fine to get an infield single or anything. I wasn’t actually sure if it’d go through the infielders or not, and finally noticed it did go through right before I reached the first base bag.”

Nakai said he planned to deliver the ball to his family.

“Since I gave my parents the ball when I had my first homer on the farm (team), I will give them the ball again.”

Yomiuri fans are hoping the hits will keep coming for the infielder who was taken in the third round of the high school draft in 2008.

He’s got a lot to live up to as the Giants’ last teenage starter, Hayato Sakamoto, who only turned 20 on Dec. 14, 2008, has already become a star. Toiling in Sakamoto’s shadow, Nakai is hoping to get better with time.

Sakamoto played in four games after being drafted out of high school in 2007, then started every game of the 2008 season and even made it onto the All-Star team.

Nakai, who unlike Sakamoto isn’t likely to become an everyday starter this season, has taken a much different path so far.

The former Uji Yamada High School player didn’t have an at-bat with the top team in 2008, instead batting .260 with 10 home runs and 94 RBIs for the Giants’ Eastern League team in the minors. He played in 42 minor league games this season, batting .302 with five homers and 19 RBIs on the farm team.

He reached the ichi-gun level on May 12, but struck out in all three of his at-bats in the Giants’ 5-3 win over the Yokohama BayStars.

He was sent back down three days later before getting his second chance with the top team on Monday.

“I was so disappointed and worked with a mind-set to try to come back up again,” Nakai said. “And I also worked on changes in my batting mechanics and it gradually started working. Then I was called up by the top team, and now I’ve had a good result.”

After a poor showing against the BayStars, Nakai looked solid in the field and also had a stolen base in the game. Despite his joy at recording his first hit, Nakai was realistic in his view of his performance.

“I had a hit, but can’t really believe that it really happened,” Nakai said. “And after I got the hit, I was too excited and committed a base-running error. There are still so many things I have to reflect on.

“It was actually my failure running the bases that led to the stolen base. So I’ve got to concentrate on my base running. As for my fielding, I was able to calmly handle the balls.”

On a roster filled with All-Stars, chances could be few and far in between for Yomiuri’s youngest player. Nakai, however, is determined to try to improve with every at-bat.

“Every at-bat is big for me,” Nakai said. “So if I don’t do well in one at-bat, I still need to focus on the next at-bat and try to go aggressively. No matter what happens, every at-bat is important.”