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Blanco has last laugh, garners CL All-Star nod


Staff Writer

After last season’s Japan Series, there were questions about whether or not Tony Blanco would be back with the Chunichi Dragons this year. When the club signed veteran first baseman Takeshi Yamasaki, who spent years starring for other teams after coming up in the Dragons’ system, many wondered how much playing time Blanco would get.

Undeterred, the slugger has silenced the naysayers, cemented his place in the field and, probably most satisfying of all, earned himself a spot on the Central League All-Star team.

“I’m really happy about that,” Blanco said on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.

Blanco was one of the 11 players added to the All-Star roster through voting by the players, picking up 317 votes last week. The initial group was chosen by fan voting, and the leaders in the players’ vote at each position were added to the All-Star rosters if they had not already been voted in by the fans.

“He’s a good hitter,” Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson said. Mathieson struck Blanco out on Friday, but acknowledged, you have to be on your toes against him.

“Just try to keep him off balance, and just try not to let him know what’s coming,” Mathieson said of his approach against Blanco.

The Chunichi first baseman leads the Dragons with 15 home runs and 38 RBIs (second and tied for second respectively in the CL in those categories) and is batting .267.

“I’ve calmed down (at the plate), I’m looking for strikes and trying to make contact,” Blanco said. “I’m not trying to do too much.”

Whatever he did, it was enough to land him a spot on the All-Star team.

“I didn’t expect they (the players) would pick me to go,” Blanco said. “But I’ll take it.”

Going streaking: The Chunichi Dragons lost at home to the Chiba Lotte Marines on May 16. Since then, the defending CL champions have been on fire at Nagoya Dome, running off an unbeaten streak of 14 games, including 11 victories, at their home park.

They’ll try to keep the streak alive when they face the Yokohama BayStars July 6.

Stingy: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks reliever Hideki Okajima opened the season with a 21⅔-inning (27 appearances) scoreless streak, but that came to an end Thursday, when he allowed an unearned run against the Orix Buffaloes.

While that streak ended, another is still in play as Okajima, in his first season in Japan after spending the last five in MLB, still hasn’t allowed an earned run.

What’s cooking?: Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson is starting every day off with a friendly competition.

“Me and my wife play rock, paper, scissors to see who’s going to make breakfast,” he said.

Mathieson enjoys the normal breakfast fare but “tries to stay away from fatty meats.”

That probably isn’t much of a problem, since he’s often the one making the meal as the loser of the family’s morning competition.