Talk about Peña and Longoria, the sluggers, they have the gloves. Bartlett is a big glove at short. Talk about Aki, he doesn't get the publicity of those guys, what has he brought to this team?
Aki came to us as a third baseman last year, did a great job. We converted him and he went back home over the winter time thinking he was going to be a second baseman, and he did a lot of great work, obviously. I asked him to find the Bill Mazeroski of Japan to tutor him during the winter time, and obviously he did.
The biggest surprise, you saw him turn the double play, how well he turns the double play. Positioning was a concern in the beginning. He's gotten that down.
During spring training I went to Jason Bartlett and said, whenever I see Aki, I want to see you, and whenever I see you, I want to see Aki; and they've done that. They've created a tandem and a pair that's done wonderful.
Aki has made a transition. The big thing, again, the runner the first time he's had his back with the runner having to make a pivot or a turn in the double play. He's not been bothered by that all year. He gets out of the way quickly. He's got great feet, and his arm is strong and accurate on the throw. I've been really impressed. What you're seeing right now pretty much is what he looked like from day one, and that's attributable to his great work during the off season.
First inning with Kazmir loads the bases and nobody out. What are you thinking right there, and were you surprised he got as far as he did today? And just talk about his performance.
Be patient. That was my thought. Be patient. It's really important that we get him going. And be patient. That's what I kept telling myself. If he was able to get through that, I thought he might be able to settle in; and he did.
When he got to the third or the fourth inning, the strikes were more consistent, more consistent with the delivery. Just a better look about him overall.
So we just needed to somehow get him through that moment, and we did with the two runs, and he was able to settle in. He's got outstanding stuff. It's really great to see him be able to fight through that moment as he did, because as we move this thing down the road, he's very important to our success.
When Aki came here, he had 106 home runs in three years. What has he changed about his swing? And could you talk about the timing of his home runs this year?
The difference is -- and I've never been to Japan, but you understand the ballparks are slightly smaller than ours. So he hits a lot of flyballs. Aki puts a lot of balls in the air. So I would imagine if you play over there, you would hit more home runs just based on distance to the wall.
What we'd like him to do is to try to hit the ball down the line more often, and that's basically his home run tonight was a high line drive. It was not a flyball.
He does much better work when he's that way. His batting average when he's on the line and on the ground really is very high flyballs. For most hitters, unless you're a power hitter, it's not a good way to go.
So Aki, standing right there, consistently makes good adjustments. He's still adjusting to our game here. He's a very bright young man. I really believe this: He's going to continue to get better here over the next couple of years because of his brightness and his wanting to make adjustments.
Just leading off has been an adjustment for him also, and he keeps getting better with that. What you're seeing right now is a guy who is in the moment all the time. He's always prepared. I believe he's going to continue to get better.
Were you thinking about putting in David Price in that first inning when Kazmir was struggling? And did you see something when Kazmir came out to think that he was going to be able to turn it around?
I was not wanting to put David in the first inning. We just had him up stretching and stuff. When it got, I guess, to the second inning or so, we had him throwing right there. I wanted him to throw in the event that something were to happen, because he takes a little bit longer to get ready based on being a starter. So that was what that was. It wasn't necessarily that he was going in the game. I just wanted him to get a little bit hotter, little bit more of a lather.
But I also felt that Kaz developed and got into a nice tempo or a rhythm, and whenever he does that, man, he's really good. So he was able to hold strong for 5 and one third, and that was important to our victory, once again.
That's the thing about Kaz. Believe me, he's going to get this all back together, and when he does, he's going to dominate. He's got dominant stuff. He's a dominant Major League pitcher. I love the fact that he's able to battle through this difficult moment on a pretty big stage. I think that tells a lot about his make up and character.
JP has gotten a lot of big outs for you this year. Could you talk about what he did tonight, again?
Yeah, wonderful (laughing). I love when I go out there and bring him in a game or go out there and talk to him, he gives me a little smile, and then I know everything's going to be fine.
His velocity's gotten better, as a relief pitcher. The break on his curveball has gotten better as a relief pitcher. Strike throwing. When we give him enough rest -- we were kind of abusing him earlier in the season. He was so important to us. I thought if we saw any command issues, it was just because he was throwing it too often. If you give him the right rest, though, he becomes more of a strike thrower.
When he does that and has command of his fastball and sets up that changeup and the curveball, he's very, very good. Once again, he's shown why he's been so invaluable to our success this year.
I wanted to ask you once you knew that Aki was going to be on your club, what steps the team took to help him integrate to be part of the team, and what you did knowing that he was going to be on your club.
Well, of course, you mean like from the very first day? Well, we had the interpreter, of course. This year we have Bori, who is probably the finest interpreter in the history of interpreting. He's a big part of our success this year. So you have to have that.
Of course, within the group, I just think for me personally, you've got to make him feel welcome. You gotta make him feel like he's a part of the group, and you have to communicate. You have to be careful also.
When you're dealing with a young men from different countries learning your language, the tendency is they're going to want to be agreeable and almost not pretend, but they want to make you feel as though they understand what you're saying, but that's why the interpreter is so important. You don't want to lose anything in translation. So you have to have a very good translator, and we have one.
Beyond that, I know our coaching staff was very patient and good with him regarding how we -- I don't want to say brought him along, but tried to get him to understand what we're doing here. That's my best way to describe it. So it's a combination of making him feel welcome and being patient.
Aki did not have a very good first spring training, but I was not concerned, based on all the reports. He just had to get acclimated to the United States and our brand of baseball.
I couldn't even imagine at his age or younger going to Japan, trying to learn the language, the different food, the culture, et cetera, and feeling comfortable from the very first day. That's a bad assumption. So we just have to be patient. We were patient. And we're reaping the benefits of being patient.
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