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The best from the East

Akinori Iwamura is off to the best start of any of the Japanese position players who have come to the majors.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 15, 2007


Though his performance has been overshadowed by Daisuke Matsuzaka's pitching in Boston, Akinori Iwamura is off to the best start of any of the Japanese position players who have come to the majors. His nine-game hitting streak already matched Hideki Matsui for the longest by a Japanese player at any time. Could Iwamura be one of the best? Here are our comments on eight who came before him, ranked for us by Sankei Sports national baseball writer Gaku Tashiro in order of their success:

1. ICHIRO SUZUKI, OF

Team: Mariners

First season: .350, 8 HRs, 69 RBIs in 2001 at age 27.

Career: 7 seasons, .330-61-361 in 963 games.

Status: Dynamic force, AL MVP and top rookie in '01, two-time batting champ, six-time All-Star.

 

2. HIDEKI MATUSI, OF

Team: Yankees

First season: .287, 16 HRs, 106 RBIs in 2003 at age 29.

Career: 5 seasons, .297-78-362 in 542 games.

Status: Two-time All-Star and feared clutch hitter has had recent injury issues.

 

3. TADAHITO IGUCHI, 2B

Team: White Sox

First season: .278, 15 HRs, 71 RBIs in 2005 at age 30.

Career: 3 seasons, .278-34-141 in 280 games.

Status: Smooth fielder/pesky hitter with underappreciated role in Sox lineup.

 

4. KENJI JOHJIMA, C

Team: Mariners

First season: .291, 18 HRs, 76 RBIs in 2006 at age 30.

Career: 2 seasons, .294-18-77 in 150 games.

Status: Starter has made impressive adjustments at tough position.

 

5. SO TAGUCHI, OF

Team: Cardinals

First season: .400, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs in 2002 (19 games) at age 32.

Career: 6 seasons, .282-16-124 in 456 games.

Status: Evolved from reserve to somewhat regular role player.

 

6. TSUYOSHI SHINJO, OF

Teams: Mets, Giants

First season: .268, 10 HRs, 56 RBIs in 2003 at age 29.

Career: 3 seasons, .245-20-100 in 303 games.

Status: Traded after decent debut, had big dropoff, became part-time player.

 

7. KAZUO MATSUI, INF

Teams: Mets, Rockies

First season: .272, 7 HRs, 44 RBIs in 2004 at age 28.

Career: 4 seasons, .268-13-97 in 279 games.

Status: Dropped off after moved from SS to 2B; played part time, then dumped in trade.

 

8. NORI NAKAMURA, 3B

Team: Dodgers

First season: .128, 0 H, 3RBI (17 games) in 2005 at age 31.

Career: 1 season, .128-0-3 in 17 games

Status: Spent most of season in minors, then went back to Japan.

Stats through Friday

 

A long time coming ...

The Rays on Friday won in Minnesota for the first time since June 3, 2004, in the glory days of Geoff Blum, Robert Fick and Rey Sanchez. In the time since, the Rays:

- Went 182-261.

- Won 3 games in San Diego, 3 in Arizona, 3 in Miami, 2 in Philadelphia, 1 in Pittsburgh and 1 in Washington.

- Changed owner, GM and manager.

- Made 20 trades.

 

A Lou-Lou

Chicago media shouldn't have been that surprised Lou Piniella snapped after Friday's loss in just the ninth game of the season. He didn't exactly show a lot of patience after taking over the Rays in 2003.

- After the fifth game, he was so upset, he refused to meet with the media.

- After the 11th game, he punched out several lights after leaving the Yankee Stadium dugout, then said: "What I don't like are the three errors that we put up on the damn E column every g-- d--- game. That's one thing I don't like. That's for G-- d--- sure. And I'm getting f------ tired of it."

- After the 14th game, he held his post-game media session in the middle of the cramped clubhouse in Boston so the players could hear him bellow: "You can't walk people when you got leads. ... You've got to make them hit the ball. Trust your stuff. Get the (expletive) thing over the plate if you want to win up here."

 

Internet Item of the Week

A sign of increased interest? Rays home game tickets on e-Bay. Three Whitney Bank Club tickets to April 23 home game against the Yankees, with a starting bid of $450.