Friday, June 17, 2011

Nishioka at shortstop, Game 1

I watched a good bit of Tsuyoshi Nishioka's Target Field and shortstop debut Thursday, and the Japanese import got quite a few chances.

My take on his performance:

He bobbled one grounder, a routine double-play chance, and didn't even salvage one out on the play.

He showed a lot of range to both the left and right. Going left — behind second — is probably his strong suit as a shortstop.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka takes the field for
his home debut. I don't know what the leap's
The acid test for a shortstop's arm — which is the scouting rap on Nishioka as a shortstop, that his arm is a bit weak—is the backhand play in the hole between third and short. Nishioka got to those balls well, but after that ...

The first one was a grounder by Paul Konerko, a slow right-handed hitter. Nishioka skipped the throw to first, and Konerko beat it out. It looked to me as if Nishioka was trying the "turf throw" popularized in the 1970s by Davy Concepcion, who figured that artificial turf added velocity to the first bounce. He would throw the ball to get one long bounce to the first baseman, counting on the turf to provide a true bounce. Most of the stadiums in Japan have artificial turf, and Nishioka may have had the turf throw in his repertoire.  It's not going to work in Target Field.

He had another backhand play in the hole later in the game — Carlos Quentin — and made the throw in the air. It was a close play; the ump ruled Quentin safe, but the replay suggested the throw beat him. Still, it was easy to see why Nishioka's arm strength has been questioned.

There was a third play that impressed me. In the ninth inning, Alex Rios chopped a grounder to Nishioka's right, not so far as to demand a backhand play. Nishioka did a good job of "getting around" the ball so that he was to the right of the ball and had his momentum going in the direction of the throw.

It's a subtle play, one that Greg Gagne excelled at, and one that seems to elude Trevor Plouffe.

My sense off this one game: He appears to have the range for shortstop. He doesn't have Cal Ripken's arm, but neither did Ozzie Smith,  and nobody complained about Smith's defense.  I think he throws better than David Eckstein, and the Angels won a World Series with Eckstein at short.

I'm  not sure he's a better shortstop than Alexi Casilla (at least the Casilla of the past two weeks), but if this keeps him from getting blindsided by baserunners, it's a worthwhile tradeoff.

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