Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Bannister in no man's land after move by Giants

by Jason Coskrey

Brian Bannister may not pitch a single regular-season inning for the Yomiuri Giants this year.

Problem is, the right-hander probably won’t pitch for anyone else either.

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 and the radiation fears that followed soon after, Bannister, like a number of foreign players, returned home to be with his family.

Most left with their respective club’s blessings and have since come back. Bannister, however, left without permission, according to a baseball source, and has remained in the U.S. with no signs of returning.

With little other recourse, the Giants placed the 30-year-old Bannister on the rarely used restricted list, or Seigen Senshu list, which actually was used for the first time last week when the Yokohama BayStars made Brent Leach the first-ever Seigen Senshu for similar reasons.

Like Bannister, Leach returned home and has not returned.

“He was put on the restricted list on April 2, retroactive to March 15, which is when he left Japan,” a Yomiuri spokesman told The Japan Times when asked about Bannister’s situation.

Being placed on the restricted list puts Bannister’s career in jeopardy, as players on the list cannot play for any other team — in or outside of Japan — without first resolving matters with their current team.

Sports Nippon earlier reported that Bannister told the Giants he was ready to go as far as retiring rather than return to Japan.

The Giants official refuted that, saying that the team has neither received nor announced anything regarding a move by Bannister to retire.

Bannister, the son of former major league pitcher Floyd Bannister, who played for the Yakult Swallows in 1990, pitched for the Kansas City Royals from 2007-10 after breaking in with the New York Mets in 2006.

Bannister, whose lifetime record in the majors is 37-50 with a 5.08 ERA, was unavailable for comment.

The agent for the hurler, former Yakult Swallows pitcher Terry Bross, did not respond to e-mail and telephone requests seeking comment about the situation.

Leach, 28, is a left-handed pitcher who played in 38 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 2009 season, compiling a 2-0 record with a 5.75 ERA.

Seibu Lions closer Brian Sikorski has also not returned after leaving the country. Sikorski is not a restricted player.

Home sweet home: The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are home. The Eagles returned to Sendai on Thursday for the first time since the March 11 disaster.

While the Eagles finally made it back to Sendai, they’ll be leaving again shortly and won’t be back for a while as repairs are made to Kleenex Stadium.

Rakuten opens the season on the road with a three-game series at QVC Marine Field against the defending Japan Series champion Chiba Lotte Marines.

Next they have a “home” series beginning April 15 against the Orix Buffaloes at Koshien Stadium followed by a road series against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks April 19-21. Their second “home” series comes April 22-24 against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe before a two-game road set against the Seibu Lions.

The Eagles are scheduled to play their first game in Sendai at Kleenex Stadium on April 29.

Save me: One Yomiuri pitcher sticking around is lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who looks to have snared the closer’s job away from Levi Romero and Jonathan Albaladejo now that Marc Kroon is spending his days with the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in Fresno, Calif.

Yamaguchi would be the Giants’ first full-time Japanese closer in four years, the last being Koji Uehara.

The former rookie of the year has done it all since bursting onto the scene in 2007. He’s been a left-handed specialist, a setup man, all-around problem solver, and even moonlighted as a starter for the team last spring.

Yamaguchi has recorded 11 saves, 78 holds and a 2.41 ERA in 265 2/3 innings over four seasons.

No doubt manager Tatsunori Hara will be hoping Yamaguchi’s latest role sticks.