When Frank Wren signed Japanese pitcher, Kenshin Kawakami to the Braves, nobody knew quite what to expect. Manager Bobby Cox only had the chance to watch Kawakami pitch via a video "prepared by his agent" and the majority of fans were totally in the dark about what the pitcher could do. Add to that list the batting lineup of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kawakami tossed two scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and striking out one in a 5-2 victory.
"He was very impressive", noted Cox. "Everything I saw was outstanding". Catcher, Brian McCann was also impressed with Kawakami. "I was happy with what I saw from him today. He located his fastball and jammed a few of their hitters".
Of course, it is very easy to get carried away with what can only be regarded as a good start, but nonetheless some of the early questions about Kawakami have been answered. For instance, the Japanese media circus that inevitably follows their exports in all sports has not affected his preparation and he has been able to remain focused throughout his early days as a Brave so far.
Additionally, the language barrier has not proved too difficult to overcome. It was feared by many that the complete lack of English spoken by the 33-year old hurler could isolate him in the clubhouse and make on-field communication difficult. However, pitching coach, Roger McDowell, has been learning some key Japanese phrases over the last six weeks and Kawakami is picking up English very well, growing comfortable with simple phrases such as "Good morning" and "Thank you".
Obviously questions still remain and the regular season is still five weeks away, but the Braves are quietly optimistic about their acquisition, and if he can emulate Friday's form all season long, they can remain optimistic about their chances of reaching the play-offs for the first time since 2005.
28th February 2009