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Interleague schedule will pit PL hurlers against Blanco

by Jason Coskrey

On a bright day earlier this season, Tony Blanco wrapped up batting practice and headed back to the Yokohama BayStars clubhouse after sending a litany of balls all over — and a few out of — Yokohama Stadium.

On the way he was greeted by BayStars reliever Jorge Sosa, who, as he watched Blanco disappear into the tunnel behind the dugout, shook his head and muttered, “Too much power. It’s not fair.”

This from a guy who doesn’t even have to face Blanco.

How does he think the pitchers from the other five Central League teams feel? The guys Blanco has been making a mockery of for the first part of the season.

Sosa, who also played with Blanco last season, when both were with the Chunichi Dragons, may not know what’s like to be on the mound when the hulking 188-cm, 102-kg powerhouse connects with a pitch destined for faraway lands, but pitchers in the Pacific League had better get ready.

Because NPB’s interleague schedule gets under way on Tuesday, meaning that for the next several weeks, Blanco is the Pa. League’s problem.

The question is, will PL pitchers have any more luck slowing Blanco down than their CL counterparts have had to this point?

Let’s just say, the odds are probably against it.

First of all, Blanco has started the season at such a frenetic pace it’s hard to envision anything slowing him down.

He’s got 18 home runs in his first 139 at-bats of the season. Only three other players in Japan have even reached double figures, none having hit more than 11 homers.

Blanco is doing that while hitting .345 with a NPB-best 45 RBIs and a 1.202 on-base plus slugging percentage that’s also the highest in Japan.

That’s all been against Central League competition. On Tuesday, he’ll begin interleague play at home against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and their ace Masahiro Tanaka, arguably the top pitcher in Japan.

Blanco joined the Dragons in 2009 and hit at least six home runs during interleague play in three of his first four seasons in Japan.

He has 26 interleague home runs overall, with 15 — including five of the six he hit last season — coming in PL parks.

Which brings us to the next reason to expect big things out of the Dominican slugger.

Until now, Blanco has played his home games at Nagoya Dome, where home runs are generally hard to come by. This season he’ll welcome PL hurlers to hitter-friendly Yokohama Stadium, where he’s already gone deep 10 times in 15 games.

Offense is also up around Japan, with balls leaving parks at a rapid pace, which also works to Blanco’s favor.

The single-season interleague mark for home runs is 16, set by former Yomiuri Giants star Lee Seung Yeop in 2006.

Teams played 36 interleague games then, compared to 24 currently. Even so, Blanco could pose a threat to Lee’s place in history.

After terrorizing CL hurlers over the past few weeks, Blanco is about to take his powerful bat on a tour of the PL.

Here’s hoping the Pa. League’s pitchers are prepared, because the BayStars slugger isn’t coming with good intentions.