This feature on pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa appeared in The Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles’ Japanese-English newspaper, in April 1998.
Hasegawa Ready for His Sequel
After a season of major adjustments, Angel pitcher is ready to start his second year in the majors as a reliever, which suits him just fine.
By Ed M. Odeven
TEMPE, Ariz. ー The Japanese media frenzy has disappeared, but Shigetoshi Hasegawa hasn’t.
Now in his second season with the Anaheim Angeles, the 29-year-old reliever from Kobe, Japan, is relieved he’s no longer the center of attention.
During last spring’s Cactus League, Hasegawa was forced to deal with three major obstacles: a limited knowledge of English, adjusting to the American style of baseball and the constant presence of the Japanese press who chronicled his every move.
“I didn’t like that (media attention),” he admitted candidly. “Too many people.”
Now, Hasegawa relishes the privacy he has.
“I can concentrate on just baseball,” said Hasegawa, who was a member of the 1996 Japan Series-winning Orix BlueWave. “That’s very nice.”
And it’s nice to be needed, which was the case last season when Hasegawa appeared in 50 games, including seven starts.
Angels manager Terry Collins said Hasegawa will be utilized in a similar manner this season.
“I’m going to put him in the bullpen where I thin he’s going to be our best fit,” Collins said. “You can run him out there, and he can give you quality innings ,or if you need somebody to start, he can give you four or five quality innings. We think that’s his best spot on this team.
That’s fine with Hasegawa.
“Right now, I’m not a starter anymore, just long relief and sometimes short relief,” Hasegawa said. “I will just do my best for a reliever. That’s it.”
Season of acclimation
Hasegawa’s rookie debut came on April 5 in a 7-5 loss to the eventual American League champion Cleveland Indians. He surrendered five earned runs and seven hits. Due to Anaheim’s injury-plagued pitching staff, Hasegawa began the season as the team’s No. 4 starter.
It was not a role in which he flourished.
In seven starts, Hasegawa posted on 0-3 record with a 6.62 ERA. He yielded 25 earned runs in 34 innings, struck out 24 batters and issued 10 walks. But once Hasegawa began entering games out of the bullpen, he made his mark and proved he could pitch in the big leagues.
In 43 relief appearances, Hasegawa finished with a 3-4 record and a 2.83 ERA. He gave up 26 earned runs while fanning 59 and walking 36 in 82 2/3 innings.
Even more encouraging was Hasegawa’s steady improvement. Hasegawa’s sparkling 2.27 ERA in his final 36 appearances greatly differed from an an unspectacular April, when he sported a 7.63 ERA.
Collins said Hasegawa’s drastic improvement indicated just how accelerated the right-hander’s acclimation to the American League was. And things should be even easier for Hasegawa this season.
“Well, the fact that he’s had a year in the big leagues has helped him out a lot,” Collins said. “Even at the end of last year he was a different pitcher, and he knows what he’s got to do to be successful and he can do it.”
Veteran Anaheim pitcher Omar Olivares, who has been in the majors for six years, agreed that this season should be a cinch for Hasegawa compared to last season.
“Of course, the second year should be a lot easier for him, because he’s already used to it,” Olivares said. “He knows the people around him and he already knows what’s around the league.”
More Breaking Balls
When Hasegawa arrived in the United States, he had a reputation as a control pitcher. And like most pitchers from Asia, Hasegawa primarily threw straight heat.
Still, the Angels hope Hasegawa continues to hone his pitching skills ー especially hurling breaking balls.
“We want him to work on some off-speed pitches,” Collins said. “His change-up has gotten better, which it has to get. But his velocity at the end of last year was very good. It was 88, 89 (mph) and some few 90s. If he can stay with his velocity that good, the change-up will help him.”
Hasegawa made his final appearance this spring at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners. He took the mound after Anaheim starter Jack McDowell was shelled for 11 hits and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.
The right-hander ended Seattle’s fifth-inning onslaught by getting Seattle catcher Dan Wilson to fly out to center field. He pitched 2 1/3 innings and allowed just two hits while striking out one.
“I think he has good control,” said two-time batting champ Edgar Martinez. “He masters his pitches very well. He can throw any pitch in any count.”
When faced with the prospect of facing Hasegawa with a 3-2 count, Martinez said he has learned to expect the unexpected.
“You don’t know exactly what you are going to see,” Martinez said. “You don’t know if you are going to see a fastball; it could be a curve. And that’s an advantage for him, because he can throw any pitch.”