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DODGER REPORT

Deception Gets Good Reception

February 22, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — All it took for Japanese left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii to make a good first impression on the Dodgers Thursday was a few dozen easy pitches off a bullpen mound.

"My first thought as I watched him was, 'Now that's a mature delivery,'" pitching coach Jim Colborn said. "You can tell he's done it lots and lots of times. It's like an art critic looking at a painting and saying, 'There's a great painting.'"

A fan might look at Ishii, 28, and think: There's a funky delivery. After stepping back off the rubber to start his windup, Ishii brings his hands together at his belt and hesitates for about two seconds. Then he brings his hands over his head and continues his delivery.

It's the kind of deceptive wrinkle that many Japanese pitchers, including Hideo Nomo, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhiro Sasaki, use in their deliveries. Considering the success Japanese pitchers have had in the big leagues, will more young pitchers in the U.S. try to emulate them?

"It comes down to what culture allows," said Colborn, who spent four years (1990-93) as a pitching coach in Japan. "If kids grew up watching Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax with that pause in their deliveries, they would be doing it. But there would have to be a critical mass of people buying into it before there were wholesale changes."

This will be a spring of adjustments for Ishii. In Japan, 12-hour-a-day workouts are the norm in spring training. Ishii's first Dodger workout Thursday was about three hours. Pitchers throw virtually every day in Japan. Not so in the U.S.

"We practice well into the night in Japan, and here it's only three or four hours," Ishii said through an interpreter. "But that will be long enough [to get ready] as long as I do what I have to do every day."

Before taking the field Thursday, Ishii had a brief chat with Nomo, the Dodger right-hander. "He told me whether you win or lose, even if you lose, still try hard," Ishii said. "That was the extent of our conversation."

Nomo, whose 1995 Dodger debut attracted hundreds of Japanese reporters, photographers and cameramen every day, seems to be glad Ishii is in camp, because the new Japanese pitcher will deflect attention from the seven-year veteran. About 45 Japanese media members were on hand Thursday.

"It's a little easier for me to concentrate on things on a day-to-day basis," Nomo said. "A lot of the attention is on Ishii now."

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Kevin Brown threw 40 pitches off a mound Thursday, the first time he has thrown off a mound since undergoing surgery to repair a torn flexor muscle in his right elbow last September. Brown mixed in a few sliders but was not throwing at full speed.

Brown said he hasn't been anxious about cutting his fastball loose, but his biggest challenge this spring will be determining when and how far to push his arm through the recovery process.

"When I throw in the bullpen, I usually don't throw easy, I like to go close to game speed," Brown said. "It's not easy for anybody to figure out the right spot to be in as far as getting your work in. It's a touchy-feely thing.... The anxiousness comes from trying to find your level as you increase step by step, and visualizing in your mind where you should be at."

Andy Ashby, recovering from the same surgery Brown had, threw 60 pitches off a mound Thursday, about 20 of them curves, and appears to be on course to pitch when the Dodgers begin exhibition games next week.

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