22 June 2011
Just how good of a fielder is Tsuyoshi Nishioka?
When the Twins signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka last winter, they knew they weren't adding another power bat to the lineup. Minnesota hoped the Japanese star would bring his speed and bat control across the Pacific, but didn't know whether his defensive skills would allow him to effectively play either shortstop or second base.
There is no telling whether Nishioka's line-drive swing and speed on the base paths have cleared customs yet, as the 26-year old has played just 11 games this year. An unfortunate take-out slide prevented Nishioka from playing in Target Field's grass until mid-June, and nothing can be gleaned from such a small sample size.
What Twins fans can analyze, though, is how comfortable Nishioka looks in Minnesota's infield.
Since his return, Nishioka has played five games at shortstop for the Twins. Many balls have been hit his way, and he's been given dozens of chances to prove his worth.
After the jump, I'll take a look at each time Nishioka touched the ball in his Target field debut. It's a very small sample size, but the "scouting" aspect of the game is almost as important as numbers and actual performance. By re-watching this June 16 game, I hope to find clues to several questions people have about Nishioka: Does he look comfortable? Is he still getting used to the grass infield? Will he be a defensive liability for the team?
Let's find out...
June 16: Twins 1, White Sox 0
In his first game back, Nishioka saw quite a bit of action from the shortstop position. He committed an error and allowed a couple of infield singles, but Nishioka put on a display of excellent range and throwing power. Every baserunner was critical in this one-run game between two rivals, and Nishioka made some great plays at pivitol times.
Let's take a look...
Alexei Ramirez ground out, SS-1B | Nishioka didn't need to wait long. On the first pitch of the second at-bat, Ramirez smacked a one-hopper right at Nishioka, who cleanly fielded the ball. There was no rush, so he took a few steps before leisurely tossing the ball to Luke Hughes at first. A perfect opportunity to clear away some butterflies before seeing some more challenging balls.
Carlos Quinten grounds out, SS-1B | He needed to cover some ground to catch up to a ground ball that was hit just left of the second-base bag, so Nishioka must not be dealing with any lingering leg weakness. This fielding play was more hurried than the last one, but Nishioka moved to his left with ease and made a strong throw to first to get the out.
Paul Konerko singles to SS | Konerko hit this ball closer to third than short, but Nishioka covered a lot of ground to prevent it from reaching the outfield. Stretched out on the ground 115 feet from first base, there is no shortstop with enough arm strength to prevent this from being an infield single. Nishioka made a hearty try, one-hopping the ball to Hughes a fraction of a second too late. He may not have the strongest arm in the league, but Nishioka's throwing power looks to have made the transfer to Target Field.
Brent Morel grounds out, SS-1B | Nishioka moved to his left, fielded an awkward bounce, and made a strong throw to first to get the out.
Paul Konerko grounds into double play, SS-2B-1B | Nishioka made a few shuffle steps to his right, flicked the ball to Casilla at second, who completed the double play. Neither Quentin or Konerko are the quickest runners in the league, but the Twins' middle infield duo made it look easy.
Alex Rios grounds out, SS unassisted | A slow roller to Nishioka, who fielded it on the run and stepped on the second base bag to end the inning.
Gordon Beckham grounds out, SS-1B | A few steps in, a few steps to his right, and a strong throw to first.
Paul Konerko reached on E6/attempted forceout | Konerko hit a perfect double-play ball, but the ball squirted out of Nishioka's glove and he bobbled it while trying to pick it up with his bare hand. Nishioka may have been feeling the tension of a one-run game in the late innings.
A.J. Pierzynski grounds into fielder's choice, 1B-SS | This had the makings of another double play, but it was hit a little too deep and a little too slow for Nishioka to make the relay back to field. Still, he made a sharp throw over to first and the threat of another take-out slide didn't seem to give him the jitters.
Gordon Beckham grounds into double play, 2B-SS-1B | Nishioka got another relay toss from Casilla here, and made a nice throw to first complete the double play. Again, Nishioka got his feet out of the way of the sliding baserunner.
Brent Morel grounds out, SS-2B | A few steps to his left, a clean field of the ball, and a strong throw to first for the out.
Carlos Quentin singles to SS | With just about any other fielder, this is an uncontested infield single. Nishioka took a road trip to his right, though, and made an off-balance throw that nearly beat Quentin to the bag. Even if Nishioka's throw was arched a little too much, but the play was just a great display of range and throwing power.
Alex Rios grounds out, SS-1B | This at-bat was a long one, showing that Nishioka is always ready. In this high-tension situation, he dug a ground ball to his right out of the dirt and made a strong throw to first to get the first out of the final inning.
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