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SoftBank 2011 Preview: Bullpen

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SoftBank 2011 Preview: Bullpen

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This is part two of four for the SoftBank Hawks 2011 season preview. Opening Day is March 25th!

Bullpen
This is another strength of the Hawks. Last season started with the trio of Tadashi Settsu, Brian Falkenborg, and Takahiro Mahara, and ended with those three plus the emergence of Keisuke Kattoh and undersized lefty Masahiko Morifuku. However, one concern with this crew is overwork the last two years. Settsu became the first reliever ever to make 70 or more appearances in each of his first two seasons in the league, Falkenborg looked to tire at the end of the season again (as evidenced by a playoff meltdown against Lotte), and Kattoh threw more innings than he had in his career.

X-Factors
Morifuku is the biggest question mark of this crew. After his excellent second half of last season, he became the de facto lefty specialist. But can he put it all together for a full season, especially now that hitters have the book on him? He's looked equally great and terrible at times since his first appearances in 2007. Another question is, what happens if Settsu is used as a starter? I think that could be one of the worst moves the team could make. Settsu is proven as your 7th inning reliever, so why would you stretch him out to the starting rotation, something he hasn't done yet in his pro career?

But wait, there's more! Who will throw if SBM48 needs a day off? Takehito Kanazawa was reliable at times, but he was nothing more than a mop-up guy to begin with. Ditto for Yoshiaki Fujioka. One of the guys who I expect to bounce back is Yuki Kume, who broke his foot in 2009 and was an unmitigated disaster last year. Swingman Yan has also seen time in the bullpen, and could be there in case of an emergency.

Waiting in the Wings
There have been some arms down at ni-gun for a while that aren't starters. Ohba has been used in both starting and relief, and if he finally gets his control problems figured out, could be a valuable swingman. Another lefty emerging would be the best-case scenario, but any arm in the bullpen behind the Big Four would be great. Soichi Fujita might have the best shot to make the club if the team purchases his ikusei contract, and his experience could be valuable to the team.

Ready for the season yet? We've still got two parts left! Part 3 comes tomorrow! たのしみに!
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