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Terahara could make big difference for Orix

by Jason Coskrey

As the promise of yet another spring swirled around him, Hayato Terahara took the mound for the Orix Buffaloes on Sunday.

Whether or not Terahara can finally live up to his own promise is something Orix fans will be watching for intently this year.

A normal season from Terahara would be an upgrade to a staff that struggled at times last year.

The thing is, the Buffaloes don’t need normal. They had normal when Shogo Yamamoto was still on the roster.

No, the Buffaloes need the Terahara who was a phenom in high school. They need the talented righty with the blazing fastball the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks thought they were getting in the first round of the 2001 draft, the Terahara who showed up occasionally during a four-year stint (2007-10) with the Yokohama BayStars.

Orix acquired Terahara this winter in a trade with the BayStars that sent Yamamoto the other way.

The move took on more significance after the Buffaloes found out No. 1 pitcher Chihiro Kaneko would be sidelined until at least May following elbow surgery.

The general consensus is that another new addition, Park Chan Ho, a right-hander with 124 MLB victories on his resume, will take over the No. 1 role in Kaneko’s absence.

Still, Park is 37 years old and in his first year in Japan. So just how much he has left, especially in a new environment, remains to be seen. Another option for the role is Hiroshi Kisanuki, who doesn’t seem to be a pitcher who can set the tone for a rotation.

That leaves Terahara, who, if he can stay healthy, could be a savior for Orix this season if he can live up to the hype that surrounded him in 2001.

Back then, he was a can’t-miss prospect. A hotshot, fire-balling pitcher for Nishinan Gakuen High School in Miyazaki Prefecture, Terahara was one of the major stories of the 83rd National High School Baseball Championship in 2001, where he drew interest from the major leagues and left NPB scouts salivating.

He was drafted by the Hawks, who won a four-team lottery for his negotiating rights, that year and was 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA as a rookie in 2002.

He was 7-5 with a 5.48 ERA in 2003, but the relative normalcy of his performance stood out against some of the gems Kazumi Saito, then-rookie Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi and Nagisa Arakaki were throwing.

The bottom fell out in 2004 and 2005, when he threw a combined 12 1/3 innings and failed to post a win.

Terahara was eventually shipped off to Yokohama where, to an extent, he resurrected his career.

He won 12 games in 2007 (his only season with more than 100 innings pitched), then moved to the bullpen and had 22 saves in 2008. He battled injuries for much of 2009, but was serviceable in 2010.

Staying healthy and recapturing the effectiveness of that fastball and the rest of his arsenal could make Terahara a dangerous opponent for opposing batters.

If Terahara bounces back, the Buffaloes could have a pitching staff strong enough to keep them afloat until Kaneko returns and the makings of a solid rotation once he gets back up to speed.