Masahiko Morino has been Chunichi's starting third baseman the last several years and has started most of the games at first base so far this year. Early in his career he played outfield and as recently as 2010 was one of the Dragons' main offensive contributors, part of the big 3 along with Tony Blanco and Kazuhiro Wada. Maybe it's his age, he's 34 now, but it seems more like he hasn't been the same player since the new NPB ball was released in 2011. He's hit below .250 the last couple years without a lot of power as he's had under 30 total extra-base hits in each of the last two years. Morino is still a solid corner infield defender and until this year his role has been well defined as there hasn't been a better player on the roster to displace him. But it looks like that changed with two of Chunichi's foreign player acquisitions this past offseason.
Over the winter Chunichi signed corner infielder Hector Luna and first baseman Matt Clark. Luna has been given the third base job to start the season and so far has done well. With Luna at third Morino has been moved to first and Clark has mainly been a pinch-hitter. The problem is that Clark has a much higher offensive upside than Morino. That was clear last night as Clark seemed to square up about everything he swung at, including a HR, a single to center that he hit right on the screws and two hard hit breaking balls that we pulled foul down the line. The difference in pop is significant because Chunichi doesn't have a lot of it in their lineup. The main question about Clark is how much trouble he'll have making contact, but Morino has been somewhat prone to strikeouts as well. So it's pretty clear that Clark needs to be given a shot to start at first in the very near future and I'm fairly sure that Takagi will give him that shot as he did with Blanco eventually starting over Yamasaki last year.
So what to do with Morino, can he still play outfield? That is questionable, and probably not the best idea with a 40-year old Wada already in left field. Can Morino play second base? Very unlikely, though I'd prefer to have his bat in the lineup over Araki's. Unfortunately Morino's best spot right now is probably pinch-hitter and maybe late-inning defensive replacement, defending on if he or Clark is a better defender. I'd like to have Morino's bat in the lineup over some of the other guys Chunichi has, but we've all been waiting a long time for him to get back on track offensively and right now there isn't really a good spot for him. It's time for him to be a reserve and prepare for his next opportunity to be a regular, should one come.