Could Tokyo’s victory help baseball get back in Olympics?

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Nick Zaccardi covers Olympic sports in OlympicTalk. He’s crossing over to HBT for this post. For more on this topic, click here.

Sports Nippon, one of Japan’s leading sports newspapers, had the number 20, not 2020, splashed on its front page of Saturday’s edition.

The centerpiece photo was of Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka fist pumping as he raised his record for the season to a record-tying 20-0.

That’s how big baseball is in Japan. Going into the day Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics, baseball was the biggest story.

No doubt, any fan of baseball (and softball) to get back into the Olympics smiled when Tokyo defeated Istanbul and Madrid in Saturday’s International Olympic Committee vote held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here’s why:

Baseball and softball are in a combined bid to rejoin the Olympics for 2020 and 2024. Another IOC vote will be held Sunday, choosing one sport from baseball-softball, squash and wrestling to add to the Olympic program. Wrestling is considered the front-runner, baseball-softball in second and squash third.

Tokyo’s win Saturday could give baseball-softball a boost. Japan looks upon baseball and softball more favorably than perhaps any other nation. It’s got the success to back it up.

Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics (2006, 2009), which has replaced the Olympics as baseball’s major international tournament. Japan also won the last Olympic softball title in 2008. Both sports were cut from the Olympics in 2005, with the exclusion taking effect beginning with the London 2012 Games.

“If Tokyo wins the honor to host the Olympic Games in 2020, I believe baseball and softball competitions will deliver the peak of Olympic sport, capturing the full attention of our entire nation and others around the world,” said legendary Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh, who hit 868 career home runs, according to a release from the World Baseball Softball Confederation. “The electrifying atmosphere of Japan playing at home for the gold medal would give the ballplayers and the fans the most unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Granted, IOC members must consider the future of the Olympics and not just a single Games in Tokyo. And keep this in mind: Japan won gold in three of the four women’s wrestling weight classes in 2012. Wrestling’s proposal to stay in the Games includes adding two women’s weight classes.

Reds having Michael Lorenzen prepare as a two-way player

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For decades, a legitimate “two-way player” — a player who functions as both a pitcher and as a position player — was nothing but a fantasy. The skill sets required for both are too distinct and require too much prep work, it was thought. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani shattered that illusion in 2018, posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter while posting a 3.31 ERA in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher.

Since then, several more players have been considered in two-way roles. The Rangers signed Matt Davidson earlier this month and could potentially use him as a corner infielder as well as a reliever. Also earlier this month, James Loney signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, who plan to use him as both a first baseman and as a pitcher.

You can add Michael Lorenzen of the Reds to that list. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports that the Reds will have Lorenzen prepare this spring as a two-way player. He could both start and relieve while occasionally playing in the outfield. Lorenzen, in fact, took batting practice with the outfielders on Thursday. Previously, he had taken batting practice as extra work following a workout with fellow pitchers.

Lorenzen said, “It’s fantastic, the effort they’re putting in. A lot of the excuses were, ‘You know, we don’t want to overwork him.’ Well, let’s just sit down and talk about it then. They were willing to sit down and talk about it, which is one of the reasons why I love this staff so much and why I think the front office did a great job [hiring] this staff. They’re willing to find solutions for problems.”

New manager David Bell said, “We’ve put together a plan for the whole spring, knowing we can adjust it at any time. We didn’t want to go into each day not knowing what he’s going to do. We all felt better, he did, too. He was part of putting it together.”

Lorenzen, 27, pitched 81 innings last year with a 3.11 ERA and a 54/34 K/BB ratio. He’s one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers as well. Last year, he swatted four homers and knocked in 10 runs in 34 trips to the plate. The last pitcher to hit at least four homers in a season was the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who did it in both 2014 (four) and 2015 (five). Lorenzen also posted a 1.043 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, there have been only 11 pitchers to OPS over 1.000 (min. 30 PA). The only ones to do it in the 2000’s are Lorenzen last year, Micah Owings in 2007 (1.033) and Dontrelle Willis in 2011 (1.032).