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Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Hisanori Takahashi is Mr. Versatile

By Mark Saxon

Here's what the Angels' newest reliever knew about the team before he signed a two-year, $8-million contract this winter:

"They're the red team and Matsui-san was there," Hisanori Takahashi said through an interpreter.

So, in an effort to gather a little more information on his new employer, Takahashi reached out to Hideki Matsui, calling the Oakland A's new designated hitter several times, including just Tuesday night. They are former teammates with the Tokyo Giants. Matsui, of course, is also one of the biggest celebrities in Japan.

"He didn't answer my calls," Takahashi said.

In head-to-head matchups, Matsui is 5-for-8 with four home runs against Takahashi, all in exhibition games.

Here's what the Angels know about Takahashi and why they are paying him more than the average situational reliever commands nowadays: He can do just about every role on a pitching staff. He started, he pitched in middle relief and he closed for the New York Mets last year.

"His role is anywhere from the sixth to the ninth inning with the versatility to possibly be a spot starter," manager Mike Scioscia said.

Takahashi pitched 10 seasons in Japan. At 36, he has a pretty good idea how to get himself ready for a season. He was out running on the Tempe Diablo Stadium warning track nearly two hours before the rest of the Angels pitchers had to be on the field for their third workout of the spring.

In Japan, teams report for spring training in January and often work out for 10 hours a day.

Unlike Matsui, Takahashi's English is not quite conversant. He said he gradually learned to deal with the cultural isolation of pitching in the major leagues ... with humor.

"I know there are some cultural differences in the clubhouse, but I try to have fun with that," Takahashi said. "People were nice to me on the Mets. The Latin guys tried to learn Japanese. We had a lot of conversations in Japanese."