Nishi Gone?

It looks like the Tsuyoshi Nishioka era is over. One can certainly not blame the Twins if that is the case. He has been anything but what they had envisioned when they bid for the rights to negotiate with him before the 2011 season. He only had an opportunity to play in three games last week after being called up to replace Danny Valencia who was traded to the Red Sox, but in those three games he played so badly he did not deserve any more playing time. Now with the return of Trevor Plouffe from the DL, Nishi has been optioned to Rochester.

Speculation began almost immediately after those three ill-fated games as to what the Twins would do with him. Some complained he should have never been promoted this year. Most anticipate he will be eventually released if a termination deal allowing him to return to play in Japan cannot be worked out first. Many castigated the Twins management for signing him in the first place citing his play as never having demonstrated the skill to be a major league player.

Before laying all the blame on the scouts, senior management, etc., I think at least one other factor should be considered as contributing to his failures. Although I am not a mental health professional, from all I have read about the syndrome, I think Nishi shows all the classic symptoms of Performance Anxiety. It is entirely possible that he is much more capable than he appears when in a Twins uniform. He may well have been very good in Japan, showing promise for success here. I believe the scouts and minor league management when they say he did show markedly better performance in Rochester after he settled down there this spring. No scout, manager or coach can predict which players are going to suddenly develop serious anxiety issues. But it is not too difficult to understand how it is possible to put an incredible amount of pressure on oneself to perform on the “big stage”. In his time with the Twins, he has never really relaxed or managed to settle in to a groove. Classic Performance Anxiety.

While I think it was a reasonable decision to call him up this time (for a lot of reasons), I do not think it was wise to put him right into the starting lineup at Cleveland where he had played so badly last year contributing to the infamous Pavano meltdown. Anxiety often is triggered by returning to settings of previous disasters. All the sights, sounds, smells, etc. of a place can evoke the same feelings of anxiety that existed previously. He might have adjusted to his return to the major league team better if he could have watched from the dugout for a game or two, maybe entering late in the blowout game just to let him get his feet under him. I doubt he would have felt quite as much pressure on the first ball hit his direction if it occurred with an 11 run lead rather than the very first play of the ballgame.

Unfortunately, that is moot now. He is once again off the major league roster, though at least for now he remains on the 40-man roster. With all the media and fan reaction to how poorly he played this time around, it is difficult to imagine him ever returning to the Twins. One can only wonder if his career could have been salvaged if the Twins had a good sports psychologist who could have helped him work through all the issues he has had to deal with, from adjusting to a foreign culture to high-profile divorce to severely broken leg to media frenzy including many from Japan.

The brutal fact remains: Nishi is not ready for major league baseball. For the Twins that means one more year of his guaranteed $3 million salary eating up valuable payroll cash that could be used to improve the starting rotation next year. Whether he remains on the Twins’ extended roster or not is still to be seen, but I expect him to be removed sometime during the off-season, if not before, to make room for some prospects who need to be added.

I must say I am disappointed because I thought having a player from Japan would add some interest and an additional international flavor to the franchise. With his failure, it may be a while before the Twins dip their toes into that water again.

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