Everything goes smoothly in Nakajima's debut
PHOENIX -- The little nerves that accompanied Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima in his first game as a Major Leaguer dissipated rather quickly on Saturday.
"The ground ball came relatively early in the game, so that kind of helped me alleviate the nervousness a little bit," Nakajima said through his translator. "Then I was second in the lineup, so I got to soak that up very quickly and early, too, which helped ease the tension."
Nakajima drew a walk in his lengthy first at-bat, and he went hitless in his final two plate appearances -- he popped out to second in the third and struck out swinging in the sixth -- but walked away after six innings of work against host Milwaukee feeling rather satisfied with the day's events.
"The environment, the ambiance, was just fantastic," he said, smiling. "It pumped me up. It was very exciting.
"Everything was within my boundary. It felt good to get the first experience out of the way. It was also very good to see actual live pitching. The more games I see, I think I'll gradually get comfortable."
The process isn't an easy one, but everyone around him is trying to do their part to make it so, and on Saturday it was Jemile Weeks who helped bring him along. The two teamed for a highlight-reel double play in the second inning.
"I knew that Weeks was going to get to that ball, so the rest was about how he was going to flip the ball, which area," Nakajima said.
"With the shortstop you have to trust him," Weeks said, "and we haven't played much together, but I tossed it up there where I thought he would be and he was there.
"It was good. We communicated well to make sure we're on the same page, and that's what you want right now."
Nakajima, too, deemed his communication with the day's second basemen, Weeks and Grant Green, "perfect."
"I thought he looked good, I really did," said manager Bob Melvin. "Made some good plays early on, looked smooth around the bases and worked well with Weeks. So far, so good."
Perhaps most impressive about Nakajima, showcased in his unofficial debut, is his awareness of facets of a big league game that will require adjustments. He noted that, while turning the double play, he was acutely observant of how the base runner was going to slide into second base.
"I understand that American base runners are aggressive," he said, "so while kind of getting away from the slide I just wanted to make an accurate throw to first base."
"He's a smart guy," Melvin said. "He's figuring things out, and nothing really panics him. It's going to take him some time to learn the opponent and so forth, but he's on the right track."
Nakajima had a familiar face watching him from the other side, with friend Norichika Aoki making a start in right field for the Brewers. The two spoke on the phone Friday, and promised to get together for dinner this spring.
Asked who will pay, Nakajima's smile widened and, citing his fellow countryman's lengthier tenure in the big leagues proclaimed, "Aoki!"