Chiba Lotte exec: Nishioka must relax

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 30, 2011 - 6:42 AM

The president of Tsuyoshi Nishioka's team in Japan was here to deliver the Twins infielder a championship ring.

Ryuzo Setoyama, the president of the Chiba Lotte Marines, was at Target Field for the three-game interleague series between the Twins and Dodgers. Setoyama personally came to deliver a championship ring to Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Setoyama is confident Nishioka will be one of the better shortstops in the American League in time.

"He had the injury and then he needs time," Setoyama said through translator David Yamamoto. "I'm sure that he will get better. It takes time to adjust to the major leagues here after playing in Japan."

Setoyama said fans here have to be patient with a player who was a five-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner in Japan.

Nishioka is hitting only .197. He got off to a slow start in the first week of the season, then missed two months after breaking his left leg when the Yankees' Nick Swisher slid into him trying to break up a double play. Nishioka's bat hasn't heated up since his return, and he has six errors in 19 games in the middle infield. The switch hitter went 0-for-4 in Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Los Angeles, but his grounder drove in the only run after Ben Revere led off the first inning with a triple. For the three-game series, Nishioka went 2-for-11.

Last year, he led the Nippon League with a .346 average, 206 hits and 121 runs a year ago in helping the Marines to the Nippon Baseball League title. The Twins paid $5 million for the rights to negotiate with Nishioka and gave him a three-year, $9 million contract to come across the Pacific Ocean to play here.

Setoyama said he is confident Nishioka is playing tight and not relaxed like he was in Japan.

"Once he learns to relax, Nishioka will be one of the better players for the Twins. [He will be] much better," he said.

Long way off

For the Twins to equal last season's Central Division championship record of 94-68, they would have to go 60-23, winning 72 percent of their remaining games this season.

There is no chance that is going to happen.

They are 34-45 after winning the past two games. Despite the horrible record, clubhouse morale seems to be good, according to manager Ron Gardenhire. The only flareup came Friday in Milwaukee, when Joe Mauer and Jose Mijares had a disagreement about what pitches should be called.

Gardenhire admitted this has been his toughest year as a manager because of all of the injuries, but he also said the team has stuck together and there has been peace in the clubhouse. And he hasn't given up on winning the division.

"We've got to get more consistent and stop the long losing streaks and put more of those winning streaks together," he said. "That's the thing that you're fighting against, is the ups and downs. Hopefully our pitching staff is going to take care of that."

Gardenhire said the team hasn't swung the bats well because of so many different players getting playing time.

Jason Kubel, who is on the disabled list, is the only Twin hitting over .300. As a team, the Twins are hitting a dismal .242.

"We have so many different people in our lineup, so when we get some people [back] ... I think our offense will pick up a little bit as far as production goes," Gardenhire said. "But these kids, they're running around, we can steal some bases, we just have to be a little finer than we would with all of our big shooters, and there's really no room for error here."

The failure to win more could also hurt at the gate. Team President David St. Peter said the Twins have sold 3.2 million tickets, but they won't reach the attendance mark of 2010 unless the team starts winning more.

Jottings

• The Minnesota High School Football All-Star Game was held at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday night, but NCAA rules prevented Gophers coach Jerry Kill or any of his coaches to attend to find a player that could help their team. "I don't understand that rule, to be honest with you," Kill said. "We have these great youngsters who have worked so hard, what a privilege to get the opportunity to play and so forth, and they play right here at our stadium and I can't watch it. I would have liked to have gotten me some popcorn and a hot dog and watched it and been a fan for once. But I couldn't do it."

• Denard Span, the Twins center fielder who is sidelined because of a concussion, said he did have one small headache Wednesday, but they are coming far apart, and he hopes to be back in the lineup soon. ... Michael Cuddyer has tied his record of seven stolen bases for a season, set last year. He has been caught only once this season.

• The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, has not renewed with the insurance company that paid for the new roof. They have signed with a group that includes Lloyd's of London and Endurance Insurance at a cost of $775,000.

• New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries, the former Gophers standout coming off the best year of his NBA career, is a free agent this offseason. Appearing at Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital in Hackensack, N.J., on Wednesday, he didn't want to talk about his contract status or his personal life with Kim Kardashian. Instead, he wanted to focus on the kids, telling reporters: "One thing that everyone has to know is that no one is beyond hospitals and that everyone is somehow connected to someone who is struggling. I have had family members deal with cancer and all sorts of diseases and different things. So it's something you have to know. It could very well be your kid in there someday."

• Former Gophers pitcher Tyler Oakes, son of Gophers pitching coach Todd, is the graduate assistant pitching coach at South Dakota State, where pitcher Blake Treinen was drafted in the seventh round by the Athletics. Meanwhile, Tyler's brother T.J., who was drafted in the 41st round by the Twins, has decided to return to school.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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