Braves Show Reason For Optimism

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) _ Chuck James got the outs. Masumi Kuwata
got the cheers.
James, an eleven-game winner as an Atlanta rookie last season,
pitched three shutout innings and Kelly Johnson hit a broken-bat
home run that led the Braves to an 8-to-5 victory over a Pittsburgh
Pirates' split squad today.
Johnson's wind-aided drive during a three-run sixth inning came
against Kuwata, the longtime Japanese star who, at age 38, is
trying to achieve a lifelong goal of pitching in the majors. Kuwata
never saw this in 21 Japanese seasons -- a batter break his bat on
a ball that left the ballpark.
Kuwata said -- quote -- ``I saw the broken bat and, I said, `OK,
pop fly,' and it's gone. Does he have power?''
Johnson had nine homers in 290 at-bats with Atlanta in 2005, but
was injured and didn't play last season. That Kuwata didn't know
him isn't a surprise -- one of Japan's most accomplished players
has never faced major league hitters except during some postseason
exhibitions.
Kuwata's longshot pursuit of a major league job is the subject
of considerable interest in Japan, where he won only 21 fewer games
(173) than the Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Yankees' Kei
Igawa did combined. About 50 Japanese reporters covered his outing,
so eager to record his every movement that they raced to take
pictures of him taking part in a routine pregame pitchers' fielding
drill staged on an adjacent field.
Pirates starter Zach Duke permitted one run in four innings,
Willy Aybar's solo homer in the first.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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