YOKOHAMA – Alex Ramirez showed his flair for the unconventional on Monday, when the new Yokohama BayStars manager named right-hander Shun Yamaguchi as his Opening Day starter.
Normally the preserve of aces, pitchers coming off big years and new blue-chip amateurs, the 28-year-old Yamaguchi went a disappointing 3-6 with a 4.49 ERA last season. Unfortunately for Ramirez, the BayStars don’t really have a lot of proven options after their starters went a combined 38-53 with a 4.00 ERA in 2015.
“I played with a lot of these guys. I know the kind of pitchers they are and the kind of pitchers they can be,” Ramirez told Kyodo News by phone. “I believe he (Yamaguchi) has the stuff to be a No. 1 pitcher.”
“He can throw consistently between 148 (kph) and 152. You’re not going to see him throw 140 later on when he’s out of gas. That’s not him.”
A former closer, Yamaguchi was thrust into the starting rotation in the summer of 2014, and went 8-3 as a starter with a 2.04 ERA. But 2015 was a difficult year and Ramirez thinks Yamaguchi did not get the support he needed from the coaching staff.
Ramirez, the first new foreign skipper in Japan since the Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes brought in Terry Collins ahead of the 2007 season, is the only foreign-born player to get 2,000 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball. He finished his playing career with the BayStars and kept a close eye on the club last season, his first year out of NPB.
“The past couple of years here, every day there was something different, something negative from some of the coaches,” he said. “I want to keep everything positive. We are going to lose sometimes, but we are going to stay positive.”
One of his central issues is preventing runs this season after the BayStars allowed a Central League-high 598 runs in 2014. Part of the plan, he said is improving the defense up the middle and focusing on the battery work between pitchers and catchers.
“The catchers are young, but we’re going to be able to help them out a lot this season with their (pitch-calling) combinations,” said Ramirez, who has credited much of his success as a hitter to his study of pitch selection in NPB.
“We pitched away so much, too much. Hitting inside pitches is hard. You throw 145 (kph) inside and not a lot of guys in NPB can turn on that. So we’re going to pitch inside a lot more. If a guy hits it, you tip your cap to him.”