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Lions rookie hurler Kikuchi sounds like a young man in a hurry

by Jason Coskrey

The NPB has ramped up its efforts to speed up games over the past few seasons.

Saitama Seibu Lions rookie pitcher Yusei Kikuchi plans to do his part.

Kikuchi has told reporters he wants to finish games in under two hours if possible, to prevent fans from becoming bored.

“Like high school baseball, the game should finish between 90 minutes and two hours,” Kikuchi was quoted as saying after a bullpen session earlier this week.

The young hurler certainly didn’t spend too much time on the mound at Koshien last year, with a 2-hour, 24-minute contest against Hokkaido area high school Mukawa in the summer, the longest of his seven outings during the annual spring and summer editions of the National High School Baseball Championship.

His shortest outing was a 1:38 affair against Nagasaki Nichidai in the spring version of the tournament.

The NPB can only hope all of its players share Kikuchi’s mind-set on the issue.

The league introduced the NPB Green Baseball Project in 2008 in an effort to get the average time of games under three hours. The program was started with the intention of baseball doing its part to help the environment.

While the initiative has shaved a few minutes off the lengths of games, getting the average time under three hours has been a tough endeavor.

The Central League went from an average game time of 3:19 in 2007 to 3:11 in 2008, the first year of the program. The Pacific League average dropped from 3:18 to 3:14 over the same span.

The CL again averaged 3:11 last season while the PL clocked in at 3:15.

The last time either league was under the three-hour mark was in 1995, when the Pa League average was 2:59. The last time both leagues averaged under three hours was in 1987. The average time that season was 2:58 for both leagues.

Everyone’s a star: Right-hander Tony Barnette hasn’t yet thrown a pitch for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, but chances are he’ll look good doing it.

Barnette’s looks have been a topic of discussion for the Japanese media, who are busy trying to decide whether he looks like Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves or a combination of the two.

Chances are the Swallows will be happy either way as long as their budding heartthrob is winning games.

Barnette was 14-8 for the Triple-A Reno Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks) in 2009, but ended the year with a 5.79 ERA. He struck out 121 batters and walked 62.

Barnette isn’t the first player to arrive in Japan and be deemed to have movie star looks. Former Hiroshima Carp infielder Andy Phillips arrived to the same fanfare last season.

Phillips, who signed with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles this offseason, was said by the Japanese media to resemble Cruise and Brad Pitt among others.

Check the calendar: The NPB has posted the 2010 schedules for the Central and Pacific Leagues on its Web site. The Pa League begins play on March 20 (Hawks at Fighters, Marines at Lions, Eagles at Buffaloes).

The CL follows suit nearly a week later, opening play on March 26 (Swallows at Giants, Carp at Dragons, BayStars at Tigers). The CL has 112 scheduled day games, 26 more than last season.

Interleague play runs from May 12 to June 13. The All-Stars series is set for July 23 at Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka and July 24 in Niigata.

This year’s Japan Series is slated to begin on Oct. 30 at the home of the CL Climax Series champion.