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Fighters counting on Nakata with move to outfield

by Jason Coskrey

The ongoing quest to get some value out of Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Sho Nakata is continuing at spring camp.

The Fighters have shifted Nakata into the outfield, hoping to finally start seeing some returns on the first-round draft pick they spent on him in 2007.

Apparently, Nakata had an up-and-down first week in the field. He played without incident on Monday but misjudged some balls and failed to do some of his fielding duties during a practice game Tuesday.

“The wind was strong today and it was difficult, though there were some balls misjudged,” Fighters manager Masataka Nashida told the media on Tuesday. “He was about 70 percent today.”

Nakata also went 1-for-3 with an RBI at the plate on Tuesday.

“I’m not happy at all,” Nakata told reporters afterward. “I’m thinking about my defense now. Even though I was able to get a hit, I was concentrating on defense.”

With slugger Terrmel Sledge now taking up residence in Yokohama, Nippon Ham is in need of the type of jolt Nakata’s bat could bring to the lineup.

Despite being highly sought after out of high school, problems with his fielding and attitude have helped keep Nakata rooted to the farm team roster.

Although, Nakata has found success in the minors. In 2008, he hit .255 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 56 ni-gun games. He tore up the Eastern League last season, batting .326 with 30 homers and 95 RBIs in 82 games.

In the past, his defensive shortcomings at third base and Nippon Ham’s newfound offensive prowess outshone the allure of his bat.

But with Sledge gone after leading the team with 27 homers and 88 RBIs, the Fighters are in need of a power hitter. Turning the focus once again to Nakata.

Opening salvo: New Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Marty Brown reportedly wants Hisashi Iwakuma on the hill for Opening Day.

Iwakuma, who outdueled Yu Darvish for an Opening Day victory last season, will take the hill in the opener for the fourth straight year and sixth time in his career.

The Eagles ace went 13-6 with a 3.25 ERA last season, then tossed a complete-game victory in the first postseason contest in franchise history.

The Eagles open the season on the road against the Orix Buffaloes on March 20.

Own a piece of the Carp: Pieces of Hiroshima Shimin Kyujo, including some of the bases former Carp manager Marty Brown tossed around, will be auctioned off, the city announced recently. Also up for sale will be home plate, seats and various other items from the Carp’s former home stadium, which opened on July 20, 1957.

Fashion statement: Saitama Seibu Lions infielder Taketoshi Goto lent a futuristic feel to spring camp, showing up in a pair of bulky silver sunglasses on Wednesday.

The glasses, which have an LCD display on the side, are supposed to aid in picking up the speed of fast moving, rotating objects.

Goto, who hit .293 with five homers last season, apparently got the idea from Tokyo Yakult outfielder Kazuki Fukuchi.

First impressions: Yomiuri Giants hurler Tetsuya Yamaguchi is expected to make his debut as a starter during an intrasquad game on Feb. 17.

The left-hander is being converted into a starter after serving as a reliever for the past three seasons. Yamaguchi was great in the bullpen compiling a 22-3 record, six saves, 152 strikeouts, 2.08 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.

Yamaguchi, who in the offseason became the first former ikusei player to reach a ¥100 million annual salary, is now learning a whole new skill set as he prepares to transition into his new role.

Speaking of ikusei players, the Giants think they may have stumbled upon the second coming of Yamaguchi in hurler Masumi Hoshino.

Hoshino has impressed manager Tatsunori Hara early in spring camp and considering the recent success of former ikusei players Yamaguchi, Wirfin Obispo and outfielder Tetsuya Matsumoto, Hoshino will be given a fair shot at earning a regular contract.