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Rookie shortstop Genda capitalizes on opportunity to replace injured Mogi on PL All-Star squad

by

Staff Writer

Sosuke Genda was an almost last-minute addition for this year’s All-Star Series. But that hasn’t taken any of the fun out of it for the 24-year old Seibu Lions rookie.

Genda got his first taste of the All-Star Series on Friday night at Nagoya Dome. In the seventh inning, the Lions shortstop made a diving stop on a sharply hit ball by Shinnosuke Abe and hopped to his feet to throw out the Yomiuri Giants star at first. In the eighth, he teamed with the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Daichi Suzuki to turn a double play as the Pacific League protected a 5-2 advantage.

“I’m really enjoying it,” Genda told The Japan Times prior to Game 2 of the All-Star Series on Saturday at Zozo Marine Stadium.

Genda was named to the team on Tuesday, when it was announced an elbow injury would keep the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Eigoro Mogi on the sidelines.

“I was pretty surprised to get the call,” Genda said.

With the exception of a few rookie growing pains (namely 12 errors), Genda hasn’t disappointed in his first NPB season. He’s shown great defensive ability at shortstop, as much as any Lions player since Hiroyuki Nakajima left the club to sign with the Oakland Athletics after the 2012 season.

“I’ve gradually gotten used to things, and I think I’m starting to get into a rhythm,” Genda said.

His prowess in the field was expected, but the young player has so far exceeded expectations at the plate. Even after cooling off a little, Genda is hitting .266 at the break, not earth-shattering, but higher than initially projected. He’s also hit three home runs, after hitting none during his time in the industrial leagues, and driven in 27 runs and stolen 24 bases. His five triples are tied for most in the Pa. League.

“When I began, I was really surprised at how amazing all the pitchers were,” Genda said. “I think that I’m starting to get used to the speed at which they throw.”

Call to arms: Giants infielder Casey McGehee is used to hitting home runs (he has eight so far this year), but before Game 1 of the NPB All-Star Series at Nagoya Dome, he was trying to give them up.

The Chunichi Dragons’ Alex Guerrero found himself without a pitcher for the Home Run Derby, and McGehee stepped up to fill in.

“Last minute, he just asked me if I was willing to do it,” McGehee said Saturday. “I was happy to try and help him out. It’s harder than it looks.”

Guerrero outlasted Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters star Shohei Otani in the first round and lost to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Yuki Yanagita in the final.

It was McGehee’s first such experience.

“I was going to go with Prince (Fielder) one year to throw to him in the (MLB) Home Run Derby if his guy couldn’t go, but his guy ended up making it,” McGehee said.

“It was fun, I enjoyed it.”

McGehee said he wouldn’t really do anything different if he got the chance to do it again.

“Just try to figure out where he wants it,” McGehee said. “That’s the hardest thing, when you don’t know the guy, trying to figure out where he wants it, and how hard.”

Maybe also have a little more time to practice.

“It was 20 or 30 minutes,” he said of his and Guerrero’s prep time. “We practiced for about five minutes in the cage and then ‘let’s go.’ “

McGehee wasn’t the only player serving up dingers. His teammate Shinnosuke Abe threw to the Yokohama BayStars’ Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Daichi Suzuki pitched to Yanagita. On Saturday, the Hawks’ Nobuhiro Matsuda threw to Yanagita, who again won the contest.

“I think Abe knew he was going to do it, but I don’t know (about the others),” McGehee said. “It was fun, though, got him into the final, that’s all we can ask for.”

Sushi boy: Brandon Laird’s love of sushi has been well known in Hokkaido for years, and his sushi pose after hitting home runs has become a crowd favorite.

On Friday, Rawlings Japan sent out a picture of a glove it had made for Laird, featuring a big piece of sushi and the words “I love sushi” stitched on it.

“My agent told me, ‘Hey, Rawlings made you an All-Star Glove,’ ” Laird said. “I didn’t know what to expect. When I opened it, I was pretty surprised.

“I’m going to save it and frame it and put it in my home. It’s just a memory and something to keep forever.”

The Nippon Ham third baseman has enjoyed the current break from the rigors of the season, and is hoping the Fighters can get something going in the second half. The reigning Japan Series champions are currently 31-51, 23 games out of first place and 14½ behind the third-place Lions.

“I just feel like we’re getting our team back,” Laird said. “We had a lot of injuries early in the year. We got Otani back. I feel like we’re fine. We have a good team. Things just didn’t go our way the first half. We have two-and-a-half months left, hopefully we can make a push.”