PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Kazuo Matsui began spring training for his second year in the major leagues at the opposite side of second base Wednesday determined to put bittersweet rookie-season memories behind him.
Matsui spent the first day of the New York Mets’ full-squad training at second base and showed a glimpse of his infield versatility during a series of practice sessions that lasted nearly five hours.
The former Seibu Lions star shortstop looked more relaxed this time than a year ago, when he arrived at the Mets camp carrying high expectations as the first Japanese infielder in the major leagues.
The four-time Golden Glove winner in Japan’s Pacific League made a dream debut by hitting a homer on the first pitch he faced in the regular season but the focus of attention turned afterward to his error-prone fielding at shortstop.
Just as Matsui began to silence his critics with solid performances both at the plate and in the field in the summer, a back problem sidelined him for about one and a half months.
He ended the season with a .272 batting average, seven homers, 44 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and 24 errors in 114 games.
Matsui’s inconsistency prompted the local media in New York to report a possible trade involving him earlier in the offseason.
“I’m not going to push myself too hard,” Matsui said of his personal timetable for a buildup for the new season.
“At this stage, it’s important for me to master what I need as a second baseman before the start of preseason games on March 2,” Matsui said. “I’ll just try it little by little at this camp.”
In Jupiter, Fla., 35-year-old veteran So Taguchi began his quest for a regular place in the St. Louis Cardinals outfield.
Taguchi went into the batting cage and took swings on an active first day of his fourth spring training with the National League champions.
“As the camp goes on, regular players get a lot more opportunities to swing the bat than us. So I want to get the feel of pitches as early as possible,” Taguchi said.
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