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Marines looking for fresh start after debacle

by Jason Coskrey

The Chiba Lotte Marines would probably like nothing more than to put the past behind them.

After a memorable tumble into mediocrity last season, there’s only one way to right the ship.

“We gotta win,” third baseman Toshiaki Imae said. “The important thing is winning.”

Ripped apart at the seams by a vicious power struggle between the front office and former manager Bobby Valentine, the team splintered into factions and slipped into fifth place in the Pacific League.

That struggle led to the season-long campaign, seemingly started by president Ryuzo Setoyama, with the express purpose of ending Valentine’s successful tenure with the team.

Now that the soap opera is over — for better or worse — the Marines are all back on the same page and hoping there are better days on the horizon.

“Last year, the pitchers and batters could not play up to their full potential,” Imae said. “If everybody plays up to their full potential, we can improve a lot this year.

“We can even win the pennant.”

Hopes of a revival this season starts on the mound where Lotte posted a 4.23 team ERA last year. Yoshihisa Naruse pieced together a solid campaign (11-5, 3.28 ERA) but veterans Shunsuke Watanabe (3-13, 4.05) and Hiroyuki Kobayashi (4-13, 4.29) turned in horrible seasons.

But Lotte fans have reasons to believe with Naruse returning and young hurlers Yuki Karakawa (5-8, 3.64) and Yuta Ohmine (5-6, 5.78) still developing.

At the plate, the Marines added Korean slugger Kim Tae Kyun, who hit .330 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs for the Hanwha Eagles in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Lotte also welcomes back Tadahito Iguchi and Saburo Omura, while hoping for a bounce back season from newly appointed captain Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

The biggest change for the Marines isn’t on the field but in the dugout where Norifumi Nishimura takes over for Valentine.

Nishimura, who was Valentine’s bench coach, will be a manager for the first time.

Lotte will have a different vibe under Nishimura, though fans will be hoping the results are similar to what Valentine managed to produce.

“Us having a different manager is a big change,” Imae said. “But the communication has been really good this year.”

What the Marines hope to change most is the dismal showing they had on the field last year. With the distractions of last season in the past, the team is hoping to get back to its winning ways.

“I won’t know until we get into the season,” Imae said of the club’s readiness to win. “Both our pitchers and hitters have improved. But it’s going to be hard to tell until we get into the season.”