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Marines have infield options in Navarro’s absence


Staff Writer

It’s still uncertain how the situation involving Chiba Lotte Marines infielder Yamaico Navarro will be resolved. Navarro was arrested Feb. 21 after bullets were found in his bag at Naha Airport. He was released by prosecutors on Feb. 23, but that doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the story.

The Marines can still take action after all the facts are gathered. For one, the team could suspend him, as the Chunichi Dragons did with pitcher Maximo Nelson (for 3 months) when he committed the same offense in 2010.

Until Navarro is cleared to return to the team, be it right away or after a prolonged absence, the Marines have a hole to fill at second base.

If there is any bright side to the situation, it’s that Lotte now has a chance to take good, long looks at the infielders it selected with its first picks of the last two drafts.

Shogo Nakamura is the most likely to see more playing time. The former Waseda University captain, drafted in 2014, has started at second base in the three practice games since Navarro’s arrest. He’s gone just 2-for-12 with an RBI, though been serviceable in the field.

Nakamura played in 111 games in 2015. He hit .230, partially due to a penchant for swinging at bad pitches, with four doubles, four triples and five home runs in 269 at-bats. He also had four stolen bases.

The higher risk/reward path would be to give rookie Taiga Hirasawa, Lotte’s top draft pick last season, free rein at shortstop while shifting incumbent Daichi Suzuki to second base. Hirasawa has a ton of talent and potential, though the 176-cm, 76-kg 18-year old from Sendai Ikuei high school is, of course, unproven at this point.

Suzuki hasn’t given Lotte great value at shortstop in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating, a defensive metric used to measure fielding. Suzuki’s UZR last season was -18.1, the lowest in either league according to Data Stadium. It was -6.2 in 2014, second-worst in the Pacific League.

Suzuki is a career .272 hitter in four seasons. He’s been durable, missing just one game over the past three years. He’s also a popular player, so it will take a lot from Hirasawa to unseat him as a rookie fresh out of high school.

Lion cub: Tomoya Mori, the Seibu Lions’ young power hitter, got his first taste of the cleanup role last week, starting in the fourth spot on the ichi-gun level for the first time as a pro (albeit not in the regular season) during the team’s practice game against the Orix Buffaloes on Saturday.

“I’m happy to be in the fourth spot for the first time,” Mori told reporters. Asked about his performance during the contest, Mori, who drove in a run said, “it wasn’t bad.”

Mori has struggled some at the plate this spring and was just 2-for-12 in practice games, including intrasquad contests, entering Sunday, according to Sankei Sports. He had a solid year in 2015, hitting .285 with 17 home runs, 33 doubles and a triple.

“He should be hitting better,” Lions manager Norio Tanabe said. “He won’t necessarily hit fourth during the season. He needs to really focus on one at-bat at a time.”

Eagle’s nest: Former Boston Red Sox star Jonny Gomes had a quiet debut for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Sunday, finishing 0-for-2 in a practice game against the Orix Buffaloes.

Gomes, hitting third in the lineup as the DH, popped out in foul territory in the first inning against Orix’s Yuki Nishi. He struck out against Daiki Tomei his next time up.