There are a few trains of thought about spring training. One of the most prevalent, is that it doesn’t matter.
Or to be more precise, the results don’t matter. The win-loss records don’t count for anything and are largely forgotten the second the first pitch of the regular season is thrown out, with the exception of the stray early-season anecdote when there isn’t anything else to talk about. Ditto for the statistics, which are generally treated with even more indifference.
Go 4-for-4 with a couple of homers, well it’s just the spring. Allow a boatload of runs in a couple of innings, thank goodness it’s only the spring.
This time of year is about making adjustments, avoiding injuries and getting ready for the season. Making a key adjustment or figuring out the right thing counts for more than filling up a boxscore in early March.
In that sense, one can understand the general lack of worry Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara tried to project after his team finished one of the worst springs in club history with a 7-3 loss to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Sunday.
Yomiuri wrapped up its official preseason slate with a 2-10-4 record and was winless in its final 13 games. The Kyojin finished last in the preseason standings and were outscored 72-55.
But hey, it’s only the spring.
“I found some positive things,” Hara said Sunday. “I didn’t see a lot of negative things, even though we didn’t win many games. We might’ve only had a few wins, but I saw more positives than negatives.”
The big positive was slugger Kazuma Okamoto, who hit .356 with three homers in 45 at-bats. Former Yomiuri star Warren Cromartie, a team adviser, has taken the young infielder under his wing and raved about both his potential as a hitter and eagerness to learn. Okamoto is coming off consecutive 30-homer seasons and could still be getting better.
Outfielder Yoshihiro Maru and catcher Seiji Kobayashi also had good springs. Ace Tomoyuki Sugano was productive on the mound as he debuted his new pitching form.
As for the members of the team who didn’t look so good over the past couple of weeks, Hara didn’t see it as a harbinger of things to come.
“We still have time,” he said.
That, of course, is due to NPB pushing back opening day, originally March 20, to at least April 10 because of the coronavirus crisis.
“Everybody is in the same boat,” Hara said. “For the players who need conditioning or need to fix things, it’s important they use this time the right way.”
Hara isn’t worried because there’s nothing to worry about yet. As bad as they were in the spring, the Giants will have the exact same record on opening day as the other five Central League teams.
That’s not to say Yomiuri should ignore everything that happened either. The candidates to fill the rotation spots behind Sugano didn’t look good for much of the spring. Shosei Togo, Toshiki Sakurai and Kazuto Taguchi all hit rough patches, though Angel Sanchez looked solid. With Shun Yamaguchi now with the Toronto Blue Jays, pitching is a question mark for the Kyojin.
Hara was succinct when asked if his pitching staff needed some improvement before opening day.
“Overall, yes,” he said. “For the pitchers scheduled to pitch in the first three games, they might also want to know the exact dates they’ll be pitching.”
The extra time before the season will allow the Giants to do a deeper dive into what did and didn’t work in the spring and iron out the wrinkles.
So even with as bad as the club performed on the stat sheet, Yomiuri hit .232 and also had a 4.37 ERA as a team, Hara, outwardly at least, isn’t hitting the panic button yet. Because there’s still time to get ready.
Plus, he’s been here before. His Giants finished in last place with a 2-10-3 record in the spring of 2008. That fall, they paraded around Tokyo Dome with a banner proclaiming them as the Central League champions.
Those, they certainly don’t hand out in the spring.