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Submariner Makita realizes Majors dream

MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres reliever Kazuhisa Makita was a freshman at Seisei Kogyo High School in Japan when one of his coaches hatched an audacious idea. At the time, Makita's windup was relatively innocuous. But the torque in his body led that coach to believe he might succeed if he lowered his arm angle.

And not just by a little bit. The way Makita tells it, he was asked to throw "underhand," his knuckles coming mere inches from the dirt on the pitching mound.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres reliever Kazuhisa Makita was a freshman at Seisei Kogyo High School in Japan when one of his coaches hatched an audacious idea. At the time, Makita's windup was relatively innocuous. But the torque in his body led that coach to believe he might succeed if he lowered his arm angle.

And not just by a little bit. The way Makita tells it, he was asked to throw "underhand," his knuckles coming mere inches from the dirt on the pitching mound.

"The very first pitch I threw was good," Makita said through a team interpreter, as he met with media for the first time since signing a two-year deal with the Padres in January. "So from then on, here I am."

Here Makita is -- at Padres camp in Peoria. When he pitched for Japan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, he set for himself the goal of reaching the Majors.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I finally made it," a grinning Makita said, when asked what it felt like to don a Padres jersey for the first time.

The 33-year-old's role in the Padres' bullpen has not yet been determined. He spent time as a starter, closer, setup man and long man during his seven seasons with the Seibu Lions. Given his extreme delivery, Makita will be used to face right-handed hitters more often than not.

The Padres' goal is to maximize his deceptiveness. When they face division rivals in Spring Training, Makita will be held back.

"Major League hitters have a hard time adjusting to what they don't see often," Padres skipper Andy Green said.

And Major League hitters certainly don't see this very often.

Tweet from @AJCassavell: In case his delivery weren't exciting enough, Kaz Makita throws 6 pitches: a fastball, a sinker, a slider, a changeup, a very eephusy curveball and a "shuto" (or screwball). pic.twitter.com/tPXQl5x2vw

Even by sidearm standards, Makita's delivery is quirky. He brings his body through the pitch and completes his stride well before releasing the ball, adding another layer to the deception. Then, there's the fact that he throws half a dozen pitches, including a curveball/Eephus hybrid and a "shuto," which loosely translates to screwball.

"Most submariners are fastball-slider, maybe changeup," said Padres catcher Austin Hedges, who caught Makita in a bullpen session this week. "He was mixing speeds a lot, doing some interesting things I hadn't seen before."

Added Green: "Makita is north-south. He pitches to the bottom of the zone, he pitches to the top of the zone, too. You typically don't see guys coming from down there pitching to the top of the zone."

The Padres have stocked a bullpen full of unique arms. Buddy Baumann, Kyle McGrath, Carter Capps and Brad Hand also have quirks in their deliveries that -- whether by design or not -- keep hitters off-balance.

"There's not many underhand pitchers," Makita said. "I think it gives me a distinct advantage as far as batters not seeing the angle of where I'm throwing from."

Tweet from @AJCassavell: Kaz Makita seems like an affable fellow. He told us to call him "Maki." Says of the moment he first donned a Padres jersey: "I finally made it." pic.twitter.com/er81BsY1hf

Understandably, Makita faces challenges coming to San Diego. When he arrived for his informal news conference, he gave an opening statement in English, telling reporters to call him "Maki." But otherwise, he acknowledges that his English is poor. At one point, he tried to explain to his teammates that he was tired. But he gave up, realizing they couldn't understand.

In that regard, Makita takes some comfort in a Padres organization that boasts three former big league pitchers from Japan in Hideo Nomo, Takashi Saito and Akinori Otsuka. He said their presence was a deciding factor in choosing San Diego.

The Padres are confident Makita's temperament makes him a perfect fit for such an extreme transition. It's easy to see why. Makita kept an affable demeanor during his news conference, grinning and joking throughout.

"He's an easy guy to like," Green said. "He smiles easy, he's happy to be here, ready to compete, happy to show what he's made of. ... And that's a fun bullpen to watch."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Kazuhisa Makita