TOKOROZAWA – Newly acquired Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel will make his debut with the Yokohama BayStars this week, manager Kiyoshi Nakahata revealed on Monday.
Nakahata appears set to start Gourriel at third base and have him bat third in the starting lineup on Friday in the first game of the team’s interleague series against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at Yokohama Stadium.
Gourriel is the second star to move directly from Cuba to Nippon Professional Baseball since the Cuban government relaxed its ban on playing in overseas leagues in January. On Monday, he took part in his first practice with the first team at Seibu Dome in Saitama Prefecture.
“I want to see him (in a game) soon,” Nakahata said. “I hope he can get off to a good start and go on from there.”
Gourriel, who attended a press conference in Yokohama earlier in the day, practiced for roughly an hour.
“I’m exhausted,” he said afterward with a smile. “I haven’t experienced fatigue like this recently.”
The 29-year-old infielder, whose best position is third, has hit 235 home runs over 13 seasons in Cuba’s Series Nacional.
“I played a long time in Cuba,” he said at the press conference. “The game had become easy from the point of knowing what the opposing pitchers were throwing. I’d felt I wanted to try somewhere else.”
A two-time Olympic medalist and three-time veteran of the World Baseball Classic, Gourriel identified Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda as one pitcher he was keen to face.
“He’s a good pitcher with both control and speed and that’s why I want to face him.”
BayStars general manager Shigeru Takada, whose club is currently last in the Central League, hopes Gourriel can be a catalyst.
“He is capable of changing this team completely,” Takada said. “We have high expectations.”
Gourriel will prepare for his debut in Eastern League games against Seibu on Tuesday and Wednesday.