Perhaps the most frustrated player in Japan pro baseball at present is Chiba Lotte Marines relief ace Brian Warren. With the team off to such a bad start in the 2000 Pacific League pennant race, Warren can’t get into many games. As the team’s closer, he’s been extremely underworked, because Lotte has seldom had a lead, and there just has not been any closing to do.
Through Friday’s games, the Marines were a dismal 3-17, playing .150 baseball. They’re dead last in the Pa League, 10 1/2 games out of first place, and we’ve only just gone into Golden Week. One might say Chiba’s dim pennant hopes are fading fast, and it’s a major disappointment for Warren, who had looked forward to having another great season for himself and the team.
The 1999 PL Fireman of the Year logged a win and 30 saves in 49 appearances for the fourth-place Marines last year and says he had a chance to move to another Japanese team but decided to stay in Chiba.
“I like our skipper and our team and thought our chances were good this season,” he said prior to the M’s game against the Nippon Ham Fighters at the Tokyo Dome on Thursday. “But, so far this season, we’ve sucked.”
As it turned out, Thursday was to be another night of losing for his team and another evening of inactivity for the former Taiwan pro ball pitcher, and he fears the less he is used, the more ineffective he’ll be when finally called upon in a save situation.
Among the club’s three victories, Warren has a win and a save, but those came during the first week of the schedule. When Lotte hit a losing streak, he spent a lot of time working crossword puzzles, flipping baseball cards, studying Japanese, giving other players hot-foots — or whatever it is closers do in the bullpen when they’re not warming up but playing the waiting game.
Warren asked if he could work an inning in a game (one of many) in which the Marines were way behind — by about 10 runs, and he was questioned by his coaches as to why he wanted to get into a meaningless situation.
“If you don’t get me some work while we’re 10 runs down, you’ll find out when we’re one run ahead,” he told them, worried he’d be rusty after a long layoff.
In fact, in an April 23 game against he Orix BlueWave, his control was way out of whack.
“I walked a couple, hit a batter . . .,” he said in explaining a team’s closer has to work constantly in order to stay sharp.
The Marines’ nightmare beginning is a shame, since the club showed so much promise. Manager Koji Yamamoto is said to be liked by all his players, they’ve got those new, sharp-looking black road jerseys with silver trim and are supported by arguably the most dedicated, vociferous cheering section in all of Japan.
But if they don’t start winning soon — and I mean real soon — Yamamoto’s job may be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Brian Warren waits for the chance to do his job as a game-saver. If they would only get into some games for him to save.
By the way, did you know Warren is one of five foreign closers on the 12 Japanese teams? Besides Brian, there’s Rod Pedraza of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, Carlos Mirabal of the Nippon Ham Fighters, Kurt Miller of the recently red-hot Hanshin Tigers and Eddie Gaillard of the Chunichi Dragons.
That’s a far cry from the era of the 1980s when each team was allowed only two foreign players and a gaikokujin “stopper.” They were rare, except for a couple of eccentrics. Remember Brad “Animal” Lesley of the 1986-87 Hankyu Braves? How about Dave Rajsich of the 1984 Hiroshima Carp?
The Animal enjoyed moderate success but drew attention through his antics, such as kissing opposing hitters’ broken bat barrels and making like a sumo wrestler accepting a cash envelope after retiring a final batter.
Rajsich was tabbed by then-Carp manager Takeshi Koba to “save 30,” but then Koba never even gave him 30 innings of work. Despite that, Hiroshima won the pennant that season.
Diamond Dust: Rumors are going around that the Yomiuri Giants may soon be trading their now-second string first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara to a Pacific League team, possibly the Orix BlueWave. The often-injured slugger won’t be able to crack the Kyojin lineup while Domingo Martinez keeps hitting well and the Giants continue their winning ways.
Limited to a pinch-hitting role since being activated off the disabled list two weeks ago, Kiyohara can’t get his timing back and is striking out most of the time.
Fighters cleanup hitter Sherman Obando took over the PL home-run lead and won himself a new car with one swing of the bat last Wednesday. At the Tokyo Dome, the Panamanian pounder slammed a pitch from Lotte’s Koji Takekiyo off a Nissan billboard high above and beyond the left-center field bleachers at the Big Egg. It was Obando’s second HR of the game and he gets the car for hitting the sign.
Note: A reminder that Marty Kuehnert’s “On the Keen Edge” column will run May 7 and 14, with the next ” Baseball Bullet-In” May 21.