4. Anaheim Angels
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A strong bullpen, a weak rotation and a big-bang offense add up to mediocrity
By Stephen Cannella
A similar curiosity drove Hasegawa to the Angels. He wanted to live in the U.S., and pitching for an American big league team would make that wish come true. "For other Japanese players, the dream is just to play in the major leagues," says Hasegawa, who spent six seasons with the Orix Blue Wave of Japan's Pacific League. "My dream was to live here, to experience the American lifestyle."
Anaheim has been the beneficiary of that dream. In his four seasons with the Angels, Hasegawa, 32, has been a key man in the bullpen, and last year he almost singlehandedly kept a leaky pitching staff afloat. Working first as a setup man and then taking over for closer Troy Percival, who went down with tendinitis in his right elbow, Hasegawa led the Anaheim staff with 10 wins, had a 3.57 ERA and saved nine games. After the All-Star break he had a 2.05 ERA and held opponents to a .205 batting average; over one six-week stretch he went 30 innings without allowing an earned run. "From May on he was our most reliable, most consistent pitcher," says pitching coach Bud Black. "He was counted on tremendously." As was the entire bullpen: Anaheim relievers worked the second-most innings and had the second-lowest ERA (4.13) in the league.
Meanwhile, the Angels' hitters -- even without slugger Mo Vaughn, who'll miss the season with a torn biceps tendon -- can mash with anyone. Last year Anaheim (along with Toronto) became the first AL team with four 30-homer hitters (Vaughn, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon), and four members of this season's lineup (Anderson, Glaus, Salmon and Darin Erstad) knocked in at least 97 runs. Throw in new DH Jose Canseco, who will continue his slow march toward 500 home runs (he needs 54) as long as his easily broken body lets him, and scoring runs won't be a worry for the Angels.
What Anaheim can't do is trot out a bona fide frontline starter. The callow Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn and Scott Schoeneweis (average age: 26) are tantalizing but unproven talents, and Ismael Valdes and Pat Rapp would be better cast as back-of-the-rotation inning eaters, which means Hasegawa and his bullpen mates are in for another heavy workload. That's fine with Hasegawa, a fanatical student of hitters and viewer of videotape. "A lot of relievers sit out in the pen and look around, but from the first pitch Shigetoshi is paying attention," says Black. "He's as prepared as any relief pitcher I've ever been around."
That preparation is facilitated by Hasegawa's near perfect English and his assimilation into life in the U.S. He conducts interviews without an interpreter, and during the off-season he and his wife, Erie, and their son, Kohto, stay in California, visiting their home country for only a few weeks. "I don't think of him as being from Japan," says Percival, who has resumed his closer's duties. "He fits right in."
That's what the Angels will do in the West -- blend in without drawing much attention to themselves. Anaheim somehow finished two games over .500 last season with its action-movie offense and horror-flick rotation. No subtitles needed here: The odds of that happening again are slim in any language.
Issue date: March 26, 2001