New Red Sox pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe is stone-skipping champ, Masahiro Tanaka admirer

Rob Bradford
February 12, 2014 - 3:24 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. --€“ It didn'€™t take long for Shunsuke Watanabe to distinguish himself. The 37-year-old Japanese pitcher strolled into camp Sunday morning, wearing workout clothes visible from across the JetBlue Park complex thanks to streaks of fluorescent orange on his shirt and shorts. But that was just the beginning. Watanabe, who is in camp on a minor-league deal with the Red Sox (and will be working out with the minor leaguers), is primarily known for having perhaps the lowest arm angle in the world. As he pointed out through a translator, his knuckles actually hit the ground "once or twice a season," although never to the point of pain. It is an arm motion that he began as a 14-year-old upon his father'€™s advice, and has served him well through 13 seasons as a starter for the Chiba Lotte Marines. "It'€™s not that I'€™m trying to go lower, but I'€™m just trying to get the ball to hop," the 5-foot-10 Watanabe said. "I'€™m not very tall and my specialty is my flexibility so in order to fully utilize that it was probably the best way to maximize my starts." Besides his pitching production (which also included an appearances in the 2006 and '€˜09 World Baseball Classic tournaments), the arm action has also led to another bit of notoriety: Watanabe holds the Japanese record for skipping stones. As it turns out, Watanabe appeared on a Japanese variety show (that former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine also happened to be making an guest spot on) when he was put to the stone-skipping test. A new record was soon discovered. "Twenty-seven,"€ he said when asked what the mark was. Watanabe can also offer something else of interest to Boston baseball fans. He has first-hand knowledge of the pitcher many view as one of the keys to the American League East race, Masahiro Tanaka. While the new Red Sox pitcher rates Texas'€™ Yu Darvish as the most impressive Japanese pitcher he'€™s ever watched, Watanabe also believes Tanaka can be a difference-maker for the coming season. "He'€™s very good. His physical strength is very impressive,"€ he said regarding Tanaka. "He might do as well as Darvish. But Darvish is the best I've seen. Every year he gets better." As for Watanabe'€™s chances, he is a long shot to make the Red Sox out of camp. The righty has done due diligence, working out with major league baseballs since October, while also coming to camp understanding he has to excel as a reliever (a new role for him) from Day 1. "I'€™m ready to pitch now," he said. "€œWhatever is needed."