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Marines take a flyer on Imaoka

by Jason Coskrey

The No. 2 will be back at Chiba Marine Stadium this year. Albeit with a different owner.

The Marines have handed former manager Bobby Valentine’s old uniform to recent signee Makoto Imaoka.

The former Hanshin Tigers star earned himself a spot on the roster after a brief tryout at the team’s spring camp in Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture.

He can play second or third base for the Marines, giving the team more depth behind Tadahito Iguchi (second base) and Toshiaki Imae (third). Imaoka was used mainly as a pinch hitter last season for the Tigers. He appeared at first base in three games and served as designated hitter three times during the interleague season.

Imaoka has a chance to become a feel-good story around the league if he can piece together a solid year for Lotte.

Imaoka is a career .280 hitter in 13 pro seasons, hitting 122 homers and driving in 587 runs. His career has thus far been highlighted by a four-year (2002-2005) window of top-level play bookended by otherwise unspectacular numbers.

He hit a career-high .340 and won the batting title in 2003, then led the CL with 147 RBIs two years later. Imaoka was derailed by injuries in 2006, missing more than half the season. He’s appeared in just 222 games over the past four years.

Terrible twos: The Yomiuri Giants have enough talent to contend in the present, but are counting on a pair of youngsters to help lead the charge into the future.

Taishi Ota is entering his second season with the organization and expectations are high. The Giants won the rights to negotiate with the celebrated high school slugger at the 2008 draft.

He spent most of 2009 on the farm, batting .238 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in 101 games. He also struck out 123 times. Ota made three ichi-gun appearances, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

With manager Tatsunori Hara reportedly giving him a little extra instruction, the Giants have high hopes for the slugger, who wears the No. 55 that Hideki Matsui made famous during his tenure with the team.

Joining him is outfielder Hisayoshi Chono. Originally drafted by the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2008, Chono decided he would play for no one but the Giants.

He got his wish in the 2009 draft, and is currently in camp with the team. Various media outlets are giving increased coverage of Chono’s experience at camp.

The Giants are putting a lot of stock in the young pair and fans will be drooling at the prospect of them one day joining Hayato Sakamoto on the first team in the future.

Cool hand Marty: Katsuya Nomura he isn’t.

New Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Marty Brown had his charges warm up in T-shirts and shorts on the first day of camp. Brown, who was photographed tossing a pitch in the bullpen during training, was also given a Segway to use during camp.

Just some of the many differences Eagles players may notice as Brown implements his system while maintaining the level of results Nomura coaxed out of the team last season.

The new skipper has reportedly told the team he wants to help take them to the next level.

Brown takes over the Eagles after spending the past four seasons managing the Hiroshima Carp.