There are various categories of baseball pitchers. You’ve got your starters, closers, middle relievers, “one-point” relievers, set-up men and mop-up and “reverse mop-up” guys. For the Yomiuri Giants this season, Americans Rodney Pedraza and Cory Bailey may be creating a new classification. Call them the “relay boys.”
Pedraza was the relief ace of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and two-time Pacific League Fireman of the Year who was let go by that club in mid-September of 2002, despite having been an all-star during all four of his years with FDH.
The Giants wisely picked him off Japan’s “scrap heap” of discarded foreign players but, because the Kyojin have a solid closer in Junichi Kawahara, Pedraza is expected to appear in the seventh and eighth inning set-up role for manager Tatsunori Hara.
Japan rookie Bailey is also a reliever, so his work is likely to be in the fifth to seventh innings of games as a set-up man for the set-up man. He comes to Tokyo from the Kansas City Royals where he was a 2002 teammate of former Yomiuri pitcher Darrell May and Japanese hurler Mac Suzuki who often took Bailey out for sushi.
Pedraza never played in the majors, having peaked at Triple-A in the organizations of the Texas Rangers and Montreal Expos.
Bailey is what is called a “suitcase player,” always on the move. He started with Boston and went through the St. Louis, Texas, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Kansas City systems, playing in the bigs for the Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants and Royals.
He hopes Tokyo will be a longtime stop and he won’t have to pack all his luggage again for a few years.
The 33-year-old Pedraza came to Japan to be a starter with Daiei but got the Hawks’ closer job by accident. He joined Fukuoka after the 1999 season began and was put into a game on May 1 just to get some work while the team’s regular wrap-up man was out with an injury. He racked up a save, then another and another, and he never saw the starting rotation, instead recording 117 saves over his four years in Kyushu.
Bailey, 32, has never pitched in the first inning in his pro career. “The last time I started a game was in college (at Southeastern Illinois). When I got drafted by the pros, they stuck me in the bullpen as a closer. At one time, I held the record for the most career saves in the minor leagues, a good thing and a bad thing,” he said.
Good, because he obviously got the job done; bad because he stayed so long in the minors without being called up to “The Show.”
Bailey likes the relief work because, “You know you have the opportunity to get into the game every day” and to be with the team all the time. Starting pitchers might be sent home after pre-game practice to rest or to the next city ahead of the team to prepare for their appearance a day or two later.
Both right-handers are thrilled to be with Japan’s defending champion and most popular team, though Pedraza says he won’t be driving to the ballpark in Tokyo as he did in Fukuoka. “I won’t even get a car in this traffic,” he said. “Maybe get a bike or a moped and ride to games at Tokyo Dome or Jingu Stadium” (the latter for “road” games against the Yakult Swallows; he lives closer to Jingu than to the Big Egg).
Bailey said, “I like the baseball here. Everyone has been so nice, so it’s been a smooth transition to Japan,” made even easier by being with Pedraza. “You’ve got to listen to a guy who’s been here as long as he has. He’s explained how Japanese baseball is different and what to expect.”
Besides a collection of travel stickers on his luggage, Bailey comes with an assortment of deliveries in his pitching repertoire. “I throw a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, curve and change-up,” he says. What? No forkball, screwball or knuckler?
He also says he would prefer the bullpen to be outside where he can get the feel of the stadium atmosphere, the game and the fans while he is warming up, rather than preparing in the under-the-stands bullpens, watching the game on a TV monitor as is the set-up in most domed stadiums here.
“Yeah, but at least you don’t have the fans right there yelling at you,” said Pedraza, referring to a few loudmouths who get tanked on sake by the time he usually gets up to throw late in a game.
Rod and Cory are expected to be important links in the chain of hurlers that gets the Giants through their games, beginning with main starters Koji Uehara, Masumi Kuwata, Hisanori Takahashi, Kimiyasu Kudo and Hiroki Sanada, and ending with Kawahara.
Having Pedraza and Bailey ahead of Kawahara is like having three closers, and it will be interesting to see exactly how Hara will use the relay boys, how well they pass the baton and what kind of stats they will post with few chances to get credit for a win or a save.
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