Yoshinori Sato: the man behind the Japanese arms race

Fri Mar 14, 2014 3:17am EDT
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By Junko Fujita

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) - Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, the New York Yankees' latest big-money signing, have much in common.

They enjoyed hugely successful high school and professional careers in Japan, both winning the Eiji Sawamura Award for the top starting pitcher and earning multiple All Star call-ups before signing mega-deals in Major League Baseball.

They also have Yoshinori Sato in common.

The 59-year-old pitching coach worked closely with Darvish at the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and with Tanaka at the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Nippon Professional Baseball.

While Sato expects much of the 25-year-old Tanaka, who signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees in January, he told Reuters that Darvish is the better pitcher and part of baseball's elite.

"Darvish was a pitcher from the time he started baseball as a child and he already stood out from his early teens," said Sato in an interview in Kurashiki, western Japan, where the Eagles were playing a pre-season game.

"But Tanaka was a catcher originally and was not converted to a pitcher until high school.

"Tanaka has a lot of respect for Darvish and put in a lot of effort to become as good as him. He has reached a level where he is almost close to Darvish," added Sato, who coached Darvish at the Fighters for three seasons from his rookie year.   Continued...

Yoshinori Sato, a pitching coach for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, speaks to reporters at Muscat Stadium in Kurashiki, western Japan March 8, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Junko Fujita