Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a star in Japan, considered a blockbuster signing last year. Now he's a 27-year-old minor leaguer, trying to get back to the big leagues.
FORT MYERS, FLA. — The Twins are going to start Jamey Carroll at shortstop and Alexi Casilla at second base, and they don't have a backup for the middle of the infield.
Brian Dozier is destined for reassignment to the minors. Pedro Florimon, claimed on waivers from Baltimore in December, can field but can't hit.
The player who fits the profile as a backup infielder spent his fifth day in minor league camp on Saturday, playing for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka and his $3 million salary were sent across the parking lot on Monday. The Twins knew this was a traumatic event for the 2010 Japan League batting champion and told Nishioka that he could take a day off before reporting. He passed on that and showed up early Tuesday in the minor league clubhouse.
"He's taking everything in and trying to get better," Rochester manager Gene Glynn said. "I don't know how it is for him on the inside -- it has to be tough -- but we haven't seen that. His effort has been excellent."
The Twins' stance over the winter was that Nishioka's broken leg in the sixth game of 2011 made it a rookie season for him. General Manager Terry Ryan expressed hope that being sound physically would help Nishioka to be sound fundamentally.
It didn't work. The same flaws in the basics of infield play existed early in exhibition games, and the Twins decided quickly to option the 27-year-old to Rochester.
Nishioka has been with the Red Wings for five games and has played all but three innings. He has played three games at shortstop and on Saturday made his second start at second base.
There was a double-play bouncer to shortstop Ray Chang in the second inning that Nishioka turned routinely, with the runner nowhere close to second. There was another DP chance later, that Nishioka turned with a runner sliding into the bag. The relay to first was a touch late.
A moment later, there was a steal attempt, and Nishioka took the throw from catcher Danny Lehmann for an out.
When Nishioka came to the dugout, batting coach Tom Brunansky made a tag gesture and said, "Nice job. Perfect position."
These were basic professional plays -- a double-play pivot, a tag at second -- that Nishioka often failed to execute last season. His inability to avoid Nick Swisher's hard slide on a pivot is what led to the broken leg.
"Everyone that ever played second base has been hit," Glynn said. "That's not our emphasis with Nishi. We're working on his footwork; get to the bag, be ready for the feed, make the turn. If he keeps it simple, he'll be fine."
Brunansky started working with Nishioka when the infielder reported to the Red Wings on Tuesday. Asked what he was trying to accomplish with Nishioka, Brunansky gripped the sides of his head with his hands and said:
"Keep his head still. He has his head flying all over the place -- both sides of the plate, but it's worse as a lefthanded hitter. And when his head starts flying, his body follows and his weight gets forward too soon. If we can get him to keep his head still, everything will stay back and he'll have a lot more options as a hitter."
Does he have any assets as a hitter?
"Yes, his hands," Brunansky said. "He has quick hands. I'm excited about working with him, because I know he wants it bad, wants to prove he can play here."
Nishioka went 3-for-4 Saturday -- a bunt and two flares in front of the center fielder. Later, he was asked through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa about Brunansky's crusade to get him to keep his head still.
"That's the area I'm focusing on most with Brunansky ... to not get my body forward," Nishioka said. "I appreciate the work with him. He says the motivation is to get me back to the big leagues as soon as possible."
Asked his view of things after five days in minor league camp, Nishioka said:
"It was definitely tough to swallow when the Twins told me to come down here. Once I got here, I was not discouraged. I was looking forward to doing my best. My job is still to play baseball."
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. email@example.com
|Chicago WSox - WP: S. Carroll||6||FINAL|
|Cleveland - LP: Z. McAllister||2|
|Atlanta - WP: M. Minor||11||FINAL|
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