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Ex-pitcher Hasegawa offers insight on Ichiro, Mariners

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

In the final week of March, they’re usually playing the preseason games. So why give 100 percent at this time of a year?

On the other hand, Shigetoshi Hasegawa said that may not be the case as far as the Mariners are concerned.

“Veteran players tend to tune up for around May, so obviously they aren’t perfectly ready at this time of a year,” Hasegawa said before Wednesday’s Major League Baseball season-opening game between Seattle and the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome. “But this team (the Mariners) is a young team and they don’t set a pace like that. Well, maybe Ichiro and (Felix) Hernandez do, though.”

And speaking of the superstar Ichiro, Hasegawa, a former major league pitcher who worked for nine seasons in the majors for the Anaheim Angels and Seattle, thought that even he would go full throttle after a mediocre 2011 season, in which he failed to reach 200 hits (184 hits) for the first time in his 11 years in America.

“I bet he’s keeping the frustration from last year,” said Hasegawa, who resides in California but is visiting here for TV commentary work. “He’s changed a bit the ways of his practices, and it tells how serious he is for this year. I think he knows this year will be the year that could alter his career.”

Hasegawa, a teammate of Ichiro’s on the Orix BlueWave (now Buffaloes) is also aware of the challenges facing two other Japanese players, Hisashi Iwakuma and Munenori Kawasaki.

Regarding Kawasaki, Hasegawa thought that it was not a surprise that the ex-Fukuoka Softbank Hawks infielder, who signed a minor league contract before spring training, played well enough in the preseason to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.

But at the same time, Hasegawa added that the 30-year-old Kawasaki has just made the roster and still needs to push himself to nab a starting spot.

“He’s still got to work hard and think what’s required to become a regular player every game,” the the 43-year-old Hasegawa said.

As for Iwakuma, who had a bit of a shaky preseason and was left out of the team’s starting rotation, Hasegawa said that the right-hander should not put his head down because he believe there’s a good chance ahead for him.

“I think he’s suited as a starting pitcher” said Hasegawa, who appeared in 517 big-league games, mainly as a setup man (45-43, 3.70 ERA). “So he’s going to have to find a way to kick in the rotation, pitching for long innings as a middle reliever. If he pitches as if he’s a middle reliever because he wants to remain on the top team, he can’t show his game.

“I imagine that he gets better from April to May, and at the same time I don’t believe all the current five starting pitchers (of the Mariners) will keep pitching well. It’s not like the (New York) Yankees, who have five good starters. So if (Iwakuma)’s hanging in there, I’m sure he’ll have a chance (to make the starting rotation).”

The Seattle-Oakland season-opening matchup was originally scheduled in 2003 but was canceled at the last minute because of the Second Gulf War.

“I still keep the name tag to put on my baggage for the trip,” said Hasegawa with a laugh, referring to who was on the team then. “(The cancellation) was like when we were about to take off (for Japan). So in that respect, it’s paid off for the team to be finally here.”