Command is not everything

After laboring through Daisuke Matsuzaka’s practice game start on Sunday, I caught some of Michael Peoples‘ effort for the DeNA BayStars at Tokyo Dome against the Yomiuri Giants.

Peoples was getting a chance to show his stuff after he impressed the week before. On March 15, the 28-year-old Peoples, who spent eight seasons in the Cleveland Indians, held the Nippon Ham Fighters to two hits over five scoreless innings. On Sunday, he started against the defending Central League champion Yomiuri Giants.

After watching Matsuzaka struggle to locate for five innings, Peoples was a treat, hitting his spots pitch after pitch. His fastball sat at 87 mph, so this is a guy who needs to locate and make the ball move. Despite the lack of velocity, his fastball often jumped and missed bats, but that was less consistent than his command.

He threw some curves and appeared to cut his fastball and throw a two-seamer, but other than some of those underpowered-but beautiful fastballs, any pitch that missed and many that didn’t found barrels. The Giants hitters were able to foul off pitches and work walks and wait for an occasional straight fastball to hammer.

Peoples allowed five runs in three innings, and website Baseball King wrote off his chances of making the BayStars’ rotation.

Teams can keep four imported players on the active first-team roster, and the BayStars added outfielder Tyler Austin to two-time home run king Neftali Soto and veteran first baseman Jose Lopez, with two veteran relievers in the bullpen, right-hander Spencer Patton and lefty Edwin Encarcion, Peoples’ prospects look slim at the moment.

Having said that, being able to control your pitches as well as Peoples can is a valuable skill, provided he becomes accustomed to the hitters here and finds ways to get them out. This is a guy who because of his command, should be able to force a lot of Japanese hitters to come to him by expanding the strike zone. If he can improve one of his secondary pitches with the help of the Japanese coaches, he could have a real future here.

Ironically, after reading that assessment of his outing, I was surprised to find that Matsuzaka got solid reviews for his effort against the Fighters on Sunday. The team Peoples blanked last weekend had the worst offense in Japan last year, but Dice-K was put up on a pedestal for holding them to four runs over five innings. Yomiuri’s offense is not the best in Japan, but it is probably the best in the CL.

The Tokyo Dome special

That’s a term I coined 15 years or so ago to describe high flies to the opposite field that just clear the walls in straight-away left or right at Tokyo Dome, which has the shortest power alleys in Japan.

Typically these home runs come off high-straight fastballs, like the one that Takumi Oshiro hit off Peoples in the third inning on Sunday. But Tyler Austin hit a low pitch that did the same thing, demonstrating why a lot of hitters simply love Tokyo Dome. It’s not the best home run park in Japan — last year the Giants’ team HR adjustment was 1.11, second to the Yakult Swallows’ 1.18 but it’s healthy.

Anyway, Austin has been hitting a lot of home runs this spring, so here’s his Tokyo Dome special from Sunday:

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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