'Reverse DH' adds intrigue to interleague play

by Wayne Graczyk

The 10th season of interleague play in Japanese pro baseball begins in two weeks with a new twist. For the first time, a “reverse designated hitter” rule will be in place. Instead of the DH being used in games where the Pacific League club is the home team, it will be in effect in Central League parks.

While it may seem like a new idea, the “reverse DH” proposal was actually suggested in 2005, when interleague play began, by then-Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine.

“If you’re going to play half the games with a DH and half without, it would make more sense to use the DH in the Central League parks,” Valentine said nine years ago.

“The fans in our ballpark never get to see out pitchers hit, so it would be something different for them,” Valentine said then, but apparently no one listened—until now.

I am not sure who is taking the credit for the “reverse DH” idea but just wanted you to know it was Valentine who first suggested it way back when.

It should also be noted we may see even more home runs during the May 20-June 22 interleague season because the more compact CL parks are generally more long-ball friendly than the larger Pa League stadiums, and the ball has been flying. So, with the extra hitter in each team’s lineup, there could be a record number of homers hit during the interleague tournament.

On the other hand, Tokyo Yakult Swallows home run machine Wladimir Balentien indicated, if he is used as a designated hitter, he would prefer the DH rule be in force in the PL parks.

“I would rather play in the outfield in the Central League stadiums because the Pacific League fields are bigger. There is a lot of space to cover out there,” Balentien said.

New Yomiuri Giants player Frederich Cepeda, now going through visa procedures to enter Japan, should be ready to play about the time the interleague games start, and he will likely be available to serve as DH in games played at Tokyo Dome and the other Central League venues.

It is difficult to understand, however, why the Giants signed the 34-year-old former Cuban national team cleanup hitter and how Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara intends to use him when there is no DH rule in effect. Hara himself apparently doesn’t even know.

First of all, Cepeda is an outfielder, and there is no position to place him without removing a productive player. Cepeda’s fellow Cuban, left fielder Leslie Anderson, has been hitting third — and even fourth — in the Giants lineup and has had a banner season so far, leading the Central League with a .378 batting average, and he has five home runs and 24 RBIs through Wednesday’s games.

In center and right field, respectively, for the Giants are Itaru Hashimoto and Hisayoshi Chono, both fan favorites and consistently good performers. Neither would deserve to be pulled in favor of Cepeda.

Anderson could play first base, but Jose Lopez, another guy among the CL leaders in homers and RBIs mans that position, so there is really no place for Cepeda, except on the bench as a pinch hitter.

Then there is the foreign player quota. Besides Anderson and Lopez, the Giants have two quality imported pitchers in starter Chris Seddon and reliever Scott Mathieson, who has served recently as the team’s closer. Japanese teams can only register four active foreigners at any given time, and Cepeda would be the fifth wheel.

Anderson, a former mate of Cepeda on the Cuban national team in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, was delighted when he heard the news his friend and countryman would be coming to his team in Japan. But one has to wonder if the Giants team chemistry will change for the better, for worse or not at all after Cepeda puts on his Kyojin uniform No. 23 later this month.

Was the signing of Cepeda made for publicity reasons without considering how he will be used? Or maybe they figure him to be an insurance policy in case one of the other foreigners becomes injured? Or do the Giants really have a plan for what to do with the Cuban slugger? So far, it is a mystery.

Hara said, “I don’t know yet how I will use him. I’ll have to check his condition and see how it plays out after he gets here.”

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