The defending Central League champion Yomiuri Giants are playing what is so far a wacky season of up-and-down, hot-and-cold streaks as the first month of the 2009 campaign concludes.

Manager Tatsunori Hara’s club failed to win on opening weekend, losing two and playing a tie with the Hiroshima Carp. But the Giants compiled two six-game winning streaks and had built up a 4 1/2-game lead over the CL pack on April 25.

Yomiuri cleanup hitter and 2008 CL MVP Alex Ramirez said at the time, “We’re winning, but we’re not really hot.” Rami was not carrying the team, and neither was his predecessor in the lineup, third hitter Michihiro Ogasawara.

Instead, Ramirez pointed out, the team was winning with contributions by fill-ins and reserves such as backup catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka, utility infielder Takayuki Terauchi and part-time outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei.

Tsuruoka, doing most of the catching while regular backstop Shinnosuke Abe recovered from various aches and pains, had as many home runs — three — as Ramirez and was batting .367 through games of April 29.

Terauchi, not a longball hitter, belted a key home run in a game at Nagoya Dome to beat the Chunichi Dragons and has made some sparkling defensive plays.

Kamei thrilled the Tokyo Dome home crowd with a pinch-hit, come-from-behind “sayonara” home run to defeat the Dragons 6-5 on April 26.

However, the Kyojin then embarked on a three-game losing skid during which they not only did not win, but also did not score.

They were shut out by the Dragons 8-0 on April 27 and whitewashed by the Carp, 5-0 and 2-0 at Hiroshima April 28 and 29, respectively, marking the first time in 49 years the Giants were held scoreless in three consecutive games.

Yomiuri bounced back into the win column with a 7-4 victory over the Carp on April 30.

While the team is having its highs and lows, bullpen ace Marc Kroon is out for at least 10 days with an inflamed middle finger of his pitching hand. It had been bothering him since the preseason, and he is taking time off as a precaution, not knowing the extent of the damage.

“I don’t want to have to undergo season-ending surgery,” said the 36-year-old closer who hopes rest will be the cure, and he can return to action when his 10-day de-registration period ends. That would be for the series against his old club, the Yokohama BayStars, at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday through Thursday.

“It breaks my heart not to be out there in the ninth inning of a close game with a save chance,” said Kroon.

He was having a great April and had been looking to set a personal best for saves for the month when he went out of action. He had saved six and was looking to make it at least eight before May 1.

Kroon missed parts of the season’s first full month in 2007, when he returned to the United States for the birth of his daughter on April 24, and in 2008 to attend the funeral of his grandmother on April 20.

The Giants have former Pacific League All-Star closers Kiyoshi Toyoda and Micheal Nakamura who could fill in for Kroon, but the job, at least for now, seems to belong to Daisuke Ochi, while Toyoda and Nakamura continue their roles as setup men and middle relievers.

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Meanwhile, who says a ballplayer is too old to succeed at 40 years of age?

Let’s have a round of applause for Orix Buffaloes outfielder Tuffy Rhodes who recently belted his 450th career-in-Japan home run.

Playing his 13th season here, Rhodes had near-Triple Crown stats in the Pacific League batting list through games of April 29. He led the PL with 10 home runs and was second in average at .421 (six percentage points behind leader Makoto Kaneko of the Nippon Ham Fighters) and RBIs with 21 (one behind Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima).

Rhodes’ name is up there at No. 12 on the list of all-time Japan home run hitters — of any nationality.

He is even ahead of “Mr. Giants,” the great Shigeo Nagashima, who hit 444 during his illustrious career.

Tuffy will turn 41 on Aug. 21, and it will be interesting to see how many more Japanese Hall of Famers he can pass in the home run department.

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Finally this week, Bill McQuerry from Wisconsin wants to know whatever happened to Mike Krsnich (yes, that is the correct spelling) who played in Japan from 1963 through 1967.

Krsnich, a burly slugger from West Allis, Wis., played with the Taiyo Whales, Kintetsu Buffaloes and Hanshin Tigers. His only major league time came with a “cup of coffee” with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960 and another sip in 1962.

His best year in Japan was 1964 when he slammed 36 homers, drove in 89 runs and batted .266 for Taiyo.

McQuerry, a friend of Krsnich, says he wants to purchase photos or other items pertaining to his buddy from that era in the Far East. He has also lost touch, so if anyone has a contact for Krsnich who, born in 1931, would now be 78, let us know.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com

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