Notes: Kobayashi popular early

Notes: Kobayashi popular early

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Mere days into life in the United States, and Japanese reliever Masahide Kobayashi already has the whole thing figured out.

"I like to go to Wal-Mart," Kobayashi said through interpreter Toshi Nagahara, no doubt echoing the sentiments of millions of Americans. "I'm surprised by the size of the store. They sell a lot of things in one store, and you have a big cart. That's something we don't see in Japan."

What Kobayashi saw Saturday morning, when he and the rest of the Indians' pitchers and catchers took to the fields at the Chain of Lakes complex for the first official workout of the spring, was a throng of 14 Japanese reporters and photojournlists waiting to document his every move.

The shutters clicked with a flurry every time the 33-year-old Kobayashi went into his windup during a 10-minute, 50-pitch bullpen session, every time he fielded a ball during pitchers' fielding practice and every time he sprinted across the agility field.

Gaku Tashiro, a baseball reporter for the Tokyo-based newspaper Sankei Sports, was part of the media pack. He said he and the rest of the horde will be back when Kobayashi throws his first live batting practice session next week.

"We were with the Dodgers [on Friday] to watch Hiroki Kuroda, and we'll be in Viera [on Sunday] to cover the Nationals' new lefty [Katsuhiko Maekawa]," Tashiro said. "The Japanese fans love baseball. They have satellite TV in Japan, so they can watch the Major League Baseball games live, early in the morning."

This year, a record-high 22 Japanese players are expected to play in the Majors, and Kobayashi is in that mix.

"I'm here to help the team," said Kobayashi, who figures to pitch in the back end of the Tribe bullpen. "I'll pitch in whatever role the team tells me."

During Spring Training in Japan, Kobayashi would throw three consecutive days and rest the fourth. He'll probably stay on a similar routine here, even though the Indians have their other pitchers throw bullpens every other day.

"I can live with [Kobayashi throwing] three days in a row," pitching coach Carl Willis said. "He is a veteran guy, and you have to respect his routine and his process of getting ready."

The process of learning to speak Japanese to better communicate with Kobayashi is another matter entirely.

"Look," Willis said, "I'm still working on English."

But Willis does plan to prepare a cheat sheet that will assist him when he visits Kobayashi on the mound, so that he can understand what thoughts the reliever is trying to get across. Willis will also lean on Nagahara for key words to use when he's trying to make a point to Kobayashi.

Rafael Betancourt, who pitched in Japan in 2000 and knows some of the language, has offered to help out in the bullpen. And catcher Victor Martinez is already brushing up on his Japanese, as well.

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Thus far, Martinez knows "Konichiwa" (how are you?) and "Ohayo" (good morning).

"By the end of the season," Martinez said with a smile, "I might learn three or four more words."

In the meantime, the Indians are learning about Kobayashi as a pitcher. Willis has arranged for all the catchers to get DVDs of Kobayashi pitching in Japan so they can study his repertoire, which includes a fastball, slider, split-finger and two-seamer.

"The ball jumps out of his hand," Martinez said after catching Kobayashi's first bullpen. "He can do what he wants with all his pitches. He has pretty good command."

Kobayashi, signed to a two-year, $6 million deal this winter, is the first professional player the Indians have plucked out of Japan, and he comes as part of a package deal. The club had to hire Nagahara as Kobayashi's personal strength coach, masseuse and interpreter, and it brought in Ryo Shinkawa, a junior at Baldwin-Wallace College, to help with Japanese media relations.

When it comes to that mass of media, Kobayashi handled the attention well Saturday. But he admitted he could do without it.

"I hope it's just today," he said with a laugh.

Slow Sipp: When healthy, left-hander Tony Sipp was one of the more promising relievers in the Tribe's system. But an elbow problem that required Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery kept him from pitching at all in 2007, and he isn't expected to pitch in any Minor League games this year until midseason.

Sipp, though, is in big league camp after being added to the Tribe's 40-man roster over the winter, and he is progressing. He said he's throwing out to 120 feet.

"It's going to be a few months," Sipp said. "I'm feeling really good, but it's just going to take some time."

Double the fun: Utility infielder Jamey Carroll showed up at Chain of Lakes on Saturday, beating the position players' reporting date by a few days. But he'll be briefly cutting out of camp at some point before the end of the month, when his wife, Kim, gives birth to the couple's first children.

Yep, that's right. Children. The Carrolls are jumping headfirst into parenting with the birth of twins.

Carroll said he expects his wife to give birth some time next week. They decided not to find out the sex of the babies beforehand.

"At first, it was kind of fun," he said. "But now we're dying to know."

Getting positioned: Other position players who have reported early include first basemen Ryan Garko and Jordan Brown, third baseman Andy Marte, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Brad Snyder and second baseman Josh Barfield.

All position players are due in Tuesday. The first full-squad workout is Thursday.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.