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Media spotlight will continue to shine on Otani


Staff Writer

Hideki Kuriyama was a television commentator for 10 years before becoming manager of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2012.

So perhaps it’s only fitting the charismatic Kuriyama has an easy and affable rapport with the media, existing in the sweet spot between the tepid indifference of former Chunichi Dragons skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai and current Yokohama BayStars manager Kiyoshi Nakahata’s carnival-barker loquaciousness.

Kuriyama knows how the game is played, but he still reportedly gave his former colleagues a light scolding after the spring camp press corps had a less than stellar grade for Shohei Otani after the two-way star’s session on the mound on Saturday in Nago, Okinawa.

Sankei Sports reported that Otani had thrown 25 pitches to teammate Haruki Nishikawa, 14 of which were balls. It might have been considered a shaky performance, but Kuriyama was having none of it.

“In Shohei’s case, instead of comparing him to other people, you have to use your own evaluation,” Kuriyama was quoted as saying by Sankei. “You haven’t been doing that. That’s not good at all. Do it right.”

Kuriyama is trying to stamp down expectations and outside pressure, a noble endeavor, but it’s likely the point will prove to have fallen on deaf ears the next time Otani is less than perfect.

Otani did something unprecedented in Japanese baseball in 2014, posting double digits in both wins (11) and home runs (10), and now fans and media are waiting to see him do any and everything short of leaping a tall building in a single bound. Every layer of Otani’s game is going to be peeled back and picked apart, and many of his less than stellar moments, no matter how small or inconsequential are going to be blown out of proportion.

At least Otani didn’t sound fazed by his “subpar” practice.

“I was able to throw with my usual movement, “Otani told Sankei after Saturday’s session. “My balls were high, but it wasn’t bad. I’ll hit my spots next time.”

No pressure, kid: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles owner Hiroshi Mikitani got a good look at first-round draft pick Tomohiro Anraku’s bullpen session on Saturday, where the 18-year old pitched to a squatting catcher and threw 50 pitches overall.

“His body is big and dynamic,” Mikitani told media covering the team’s spring camp in Kumejima. “He resembles Masahiro Tanaka.”

Eagles fans hope Anraku will also emulate the results Tanaka put up as a rookie. Though that’s no small feat.

Tanaka was 11-7 in his first year with a 3.82 ERA and 196 strikeouts over 186⅓ innings and earned the 2007 Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award.

Never too old: Former Chiba Lotte Marines player Julio Franco is returning to Japan at age 56 to be the player-manager of the Ishikawa Million Stars in the independent Baseball Challenge League of Japan, the team announced on Sunday.

The famously well-traveled Franco had two stints in NPB as a player, hitting .306 with 10 home runs, 58 RBIs and 11 stolen bases for the Marines in 1995 and .290 with 18 homers and 77 RBIs for Lotte in 1998.

Franco, first signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1978, spent 2014 as a player-coach for the Fort Worth Cats in the independent United League last season. When asked last year why he was still playing at 55, Franco told ESPN’s Richard Durrett, “If you stay home, people forget about you and you may not get back in. I want to get back in as a coach, hitting coach, bench coach, future manager. This is a great opportunity.”

Learning the ropes: The Umpire School just wrapped up in Historic Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, Florida, last week with four Japanese participants among the Class of 2015.

Kehgo Iwashita, Yuta Suyama, So Yamauchi, and Shun Okumura were four of the 19 international participants from this year’s 91-member group, according to Toby Zwikel, vice president of Brener Zwikel & Associates, in an media release. NPB umpire instructor Takeshi Hirabayashi was also in attendance.

The Umpire School is a part of Minor League Baseball. It began in 2012 with the goal of providing a professional umpire training program for current and aspiring umpires.