CLEVELAND -- Tsuyoshi Nishioka was as relaxed as I've ever seen him before Monday night's game against the Indians.
There was no sign of the jitters that were painfully evident as soon as he hit the field, going 0-for-5 with two errors.
The game itself reminded me of his 2011 debut on Opening Day in Toronto. The ball found him right away, and he instantly looked frazzled. Tonight's first-inning error was an all-timer.
But for what it's worth, Nishioka seemed completely composed before the game, after arriving from Class AAA Rochester. He did plenty of interviews after leaving Japan for the major leagues last year, but the sessions never produced as much laughter as the one he conducted Monday.
Besides focusing on baseball in Rochester, Nishioka worked on overcoming the language barrier, too.
“I think I learned a lot of English -- and Spanish as well,” Nishioka said in words translated from Japanese by Ryo Shinkawa. “I learned a lot of English, so I’ll start reading newspapers now, and I’ll know what you guys are writing. So don’t be too hard on me.”
Nishioka, 28, smiled as he said this. To prove his point, he answered some of the American media’s questions in English. Asked if he was happy in Rochester, Nishioka quickly said, “Not happy.”
He paused to let the laughter subside, then explained in Japanese: “The staff down there was great. Geno [Manager Gene Glynn] and Bruno [hitting coach Tom Brunansky] -- I think they had to do a lot for me to keep my motivation up and maintain it throughout the season.”
Last year was a struggle for Nishioka on and off the field. He broke his leg and struggled when he returned, posting a .278 on-base percentage and making 12 errors in 68 games. His then-wife had their first baby in August, and the couple divorced over the offseason.
In Rochester, he gradually found more of a comfort level for the American game, not to mention American culture. His batting average by month went: .203 (April), .205 (May), .255 (June), .298 (July) and .071 (in three August games).
He committed six errors in 70 games at second base, and three errors in 14 games at shortstop. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the plan is to give Nishioka regular playing time at second.
“That’s what he was playing down there and playing very well,” Gardenhire said before the game. “All the reports have been that he’s playing fantastic baseball and having quality at-bats and playing solid defense. So I’m excited to see if he can carry that right into here.”
After the game, Gardenhire chalked up Nishioka's first-inning error to nerves and complimented him on his at-bats. The manager sounded undeterred in his plan to keep giving Nishioka playing time, but you have to wonder how long the Twins will let this go.
They are playing their best baseball of the season, and now they've got a guy who looked completely out of sorts patrolling the middle infield. That might change. Perhaps Nishioka will compose himself like he did in Rochester, but I'd have to think this must happen sooner rather than later.