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4/11 Game Thread: Kenshin Kawakami Makes His Debut

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Kenshin Kawakami, our first major free agent acquisition of the winter, makes his major league debut tonight against the Nats. Last night in the clubhouse he got to witness firsthand just how bad our bullpen can be. We won anyway, though, so he'll certainly be trying to extend our winning streak.

I ran a translation on Kawakami's stats a couple months ago, and I'm convinced he's a good 'un. But I have a fear -- which may be unfair stereotyping, as Dave Cameron believes -- that many Japanese pitchers who have come to the U.S. have been nibblers who are reluctant to pound the strike zone, from Kaz Ishii and Kei Igawa to Daisuke Matsuzaka's rookie year. Cameron says that "There's no such thing as 'Japanese players'... The only thing Igawa and Kawakami have in common is ancestry."

However, I have my doubts: if you watch Japanese baseball, many of the hitters have the exact same batting stance, and many of the pitchers have the same kind of hitch in their delivery. And the Japanese baseball philosophy of "wa," or harmony, leads Japanese managers to play for one run and use tactics like bunting and hit and run even more than over here, so as to minimize blowouts. (At least, it did when Robert Whiting wrote about it in "You Gotta Have Wa." American managers, like Bobby Valentine and Trey Hillman, are more common in Japan now.) I have no idea whether baseball tactics and mechanics which are prevalent in Japan would tend to lead Japanese players to have commonalities when they play in America... but I think it's an open question.

Unfortunately, Kawakami didn't allay my concerns about his control this spring, as he gave up 15 walks against only 11 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. He was otherwise effective, with a 3.09 ERA, giving up only 16 hits and 1 homer, but you cannot win with more walks than strikeouts. I'm hoping it was just a tuneup and he'll go right after them tonight.

Let's make it two in a row!

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