Kawakami glad to have Saito as teammate

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — The Maserati and suburban mansion were nice, but now Braves pitcher Kenshin Kawakami has something to really raise the comfort level.

A Japanese teammate.

The Braves signed free-agent reliever Takashi Saito in December, and now have two Japanese pitchers, each with his own interpreter. Four countrymen in the clubhouse.

“In terms of having more Japanese people to speak with, it does make me feel comfortable,” Kawakami said through his familiar interpreter, Daichi Takasue.

Kawakami spent the offseason in Japan and hired someone to make regular visits to his house in Gwinnett County – an estate formerly owned by rapper Bow Wow. The pitcher had the person check in to make sure the sleek sportscar he bought last year was safe.

“Yes, he was worried about his car,” Takasue said, smiling.

Kawakami worked in the offseason to improve his two-seam (sinking) fastball, and strengthened a pitching shoulder that became fatigued at times last season.

He went 7-12 despite a respectable 3.86 ERA as a 33-year-old major league rookie in 2009, after a long career in Japan. He was 7-10 with a 3.97 ERA in 25 starts before moving to the bullpen when Tim Hudson came off the disabled list.

Kawakami is back in the rotation, and Braves manager Bobby Cox said it’s only natural that the right-hander feels more comfortable in his second season in the United States.

“It’d be just like me going over there [to Japan] to manage,” Cox said. “I’d have to get to know everything. It would take a year to get settled in. But he did last year. First year over here, right from the get-go I thought he did fine.”

Kawakami impressed teammates and Braves officials with his outings against high-profile opponents, including eight shutout innings in a win against Toronto and Roy Halladay, who’s now with Philadelphia.

“He beat all the best pitchers that he faced last year,” Cox said. “He absolutely belongs in a major league rotation. Whether he could win in the teens depends on how many runs we get him. He gives you a good ballgame every time out, a chance to win.

“I was impressed with him last year, very much. He’s a competitor – big time.”

After starting out 1-3 with a 7.06 ERA in four April games, Kawakami posted a 3.42 ERA in his final 21 starts. His 6-7 record in the latter stretch was largely due to poor run support, as the Braves scored one or no runs while he was in 10 of the 21 stats.

“Last year I did some good things and bad things,” Kawakami said. “This year I just want everything to be good. With Saito, I think everything will be more comfortable.”

Photos from AJC.com: Kawakami visits Cobb school | Kawakami big 2009 Spring attraction

14 comments Add your comment

balla1881

February 21st, 2010
5:13 pm

Chopper

February 21st, 2010
5:15 pm

Kawakami got a bad rap, where it came from I have no idea. After April he was just as solid as you want a back of the rotation guy. Plus he beat Roy Halladay, Johan Santana and Dice K head to head. That’s being a clutch pitcher. I look for KK to have a better year, from start to finish, but he doesn’t need a huge improvement.

Asheville Dawg

February 21st, 2010
5:22 pm

The first month KK seemed baffled But, then he settled down and pitched quite well. If the Braves give him any run support,he should win 12-15 times.

JoeyT

February 21st, 2010
5:36 pm

In American baseball, it helps to not put so many people on baseball.

JoeyT

February 21st, 2010
5:36 pm

on base, damnit.

bass stringerfish

February 21st, 2010
8:25 pm

I lived and worked in Japan for 3 years (when Matsui and Ichiro were still over there). I can tell you 1st hand that going from here to Japan was one thing..there was a good bit of English around and for the most part Americans are a bit more outgoing. Coming from Japan to the US and performing on a major league level with all the Japan press expectations is 1000% harder. With the exception of some spots in NY, San Fran and Honolulu when was the last time you saw any Japanese – anywhere? When was the last time you saw Japanese TV or radio? I mean even so called Japanese restaurants are mostly not. I had all that in Tokyo. I spoke the language a bit and it was still hard. I expect that year 2 will be a major break through for him and having Saito to talk with is HUGE.Its amazing how much your whole life slows down when you are comnfortable. This guy can throw the rock and we saw some of that last year. Stay positive..unless you have walked in his shoes, do not underestimate the outside issues that played into some of the performances that were not up to par. I am excited that he’ll be in our rotation.

Tooslim73

February 21st, 2010
8:42 pm

A Maserati GranTurismo would make me very comfortable.

scottbravesfan

February 22nd, 2010
12:48 am

I agree with Bass. A lot of signage is Tokyo is in English as well, especially in the shops. Good luck finding anything Japanese in Atlanta. If he was Korean he would have been ok because there is a very large Korean population in the metro Atlanta especially in Gwinnett County but not so much for Japanese.

Macon Braves (RIP)

February 22nd, 2010
8:30 am

AJC IS AND IDIOT!!!!

jhughes

February 22nd, 2010
8:49 am

this is ridiculous at least i can see macon is doing the same thing i am

Mike in Smyrna

February 22nd, 2010
8:50 am

Macon Braves, that statement doesn’t make any sense.

38yrBravesFan

February 22nd, 2010
3:56 pm

I liked him, and think he will be fine this year.

GO BRAVES!!

jeff

February 22nd, 2010
4:07 pm

I agree with Chopper 100%

KK faced Holiday, Cole Hamels, Josh Johnson and Johan Santana as a ‘fifth’ starter. No wonder run support was down.

Kenshin is doing a great job adapting in Atlanta. He seems to ‘get it’ and acts like a true professional. He stepped down to the pen without a complaint, which couldn’t have been easy on his pride.

Hopefully the Braves can build on this get other international players to properly represent the large international community we have in this city. Jung Bong was the last good one and it was nice to see him in the WBC where he was amazing.

chuck

February 23rd, 2010
7:41 am

Don’t forget the absolute gem he threw against a smoking hot Kershaw on Sat afternoon FOX game

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