Spies from other clubs are pulling for Hiroki Uemoto to win the battle for second base – the biggest position battle in the Tigers camp – over Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The Tigers handily beat the Chunichi Dragons 6-1 in their exhibition match on the 22nd (in Chatan). Said manager Wada, who recorded his first win in the club’s sixth intersquad game of the year, “We face them in our opening season series, so we put a little more emphasis on winning this one,” with a relieved look on his face.
The talk behind the backstop overheard from other clubs’ “scorers” (scouts/data analysts) was all about the battle for second base between Uemoto and Nishioka. So why are the majority of them not cheering for the thus far unspectacular Nishioka, and instead rooting for the man who stole his position last season, Uemoto? One scorer had this to say: “Of course we don’t like Uemoto. He’s got greater range at 2nd than Nishioka does. But if Uemoto gets second base, then there’s a good chance Nishioka will be moved to third. We’ll be happy if that happens because it means (Ryota) Imanari gets forced to sit on the bench. So we want Uemoto to win the battle.”
On this day, Nishioka was also in the starting lineup at DH, posting two walks and hitting a sacrifice fly, earning him an RBI. At second base, Uemoto went one-for-four with an RBI himself, making today’s match a “draw.” So why the precaution about the popular impersonator (and secret weapon) that is Imanari?
Another spy had this to say: “He’s their mood maker and is a great fielder. Plus most of the Tigers hitters gamble on what pitch is coming their way, but not Imanari. He is able to adjust to what is thrown at him. Even when there’s one hitter in the lineup like that, the pitcher’s got to go out of his way to pitch carefully to him. He’s more of a threat than his numbers indicate, and we’d rather he stay on the bench against us.” And just as the man pointed out, Imanari, who played third on this day, went 3-for-5 and proved to be a hard out.
If Uemoto can stay on at second, the team may follow last year’s strategy and use Nishioka at third quite often. In doing so, the pesky Imanari would sit on the bench, a gold mine unharvested. One can’t help but wonder if other teams aren’t taking Nishioka too lightly…