A's Nakajima Looking To Buck Trend
PHOENIX—The Athletics are not a team that shies away from gambles, and
the big risk this year comes in the middle of the diamond.
Japanese middle infielders have not flourished in the U.S. The
differences in play have so far seemed too much to overcome. But that
has not thwarted the A's from bringing in Hiroyuki Nakajima
to take over
the shortstop job in Oakland. A three-time winner of the Japanese
equivalent of the Gold Glove, he's now a rookie in U.S. baseball.
The big question will be how he adjusts to the differences in play.
Japanese fields are almost exclusively artificial surfaces, and he will
have to learn the techniques of playing on grass. During the early days
of spring training, infield coach Mike Gallego saw that Nakajima has a
tendency to wait back on balls, rather than charge as major league
shortstops must. That will be the project for spring, to adjust to the
different styles of play.
The 30-year-old Nakajima brings a big smile and a vibrant personality to
the East Bay. He tells jokes, both through his translator and with his
limited English, and he clearly enjoys the whole experience of stepping
into the spotlight of playing a critical position on a potential
contender. Manager Bob Melvin even identified him as a potential team
leader, despite the language barrier.
"If he really did say that, I'm really excited, thrilled, about it,"
Nakajima said through translator Hiroo Nishi. "I'm going to do all that I
can to be that type of leader."
The A's hedged their bet shortly before spring training, trading for
veteran Jed Lowrie
to back up at all infield positions. The Stanford
alum is considered a solid shortstop but has a history of injuries that
have limited his playing time. Melvin assured Nakajima that he is still
the primary shortstop.
The righthanded hitter comes off a big year in Japan, where he hit .311
with 13 home runs, and he is clearly excited to play in the majors. He
showed that when he appeared at the A's Fanfest in Oakland in late
"When I came on the stage, people were calling me 'Hiro,' and I
appreciated that," he said with a big smile. From here on, the question
will be what he can deliver on the field.
• Righthander Michael Ynoa
was set for his first big league spring
training when he contracted a case of chicken pox that delayed his
arrival from the Dominican Republic.
• The A's released infielder Nino Leyja
, a 15th-round pick in 2008 from
Texas. Leyja had shown promise before getting banged up by injuries.