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Friday, May 1, 2009

NPB NOTEBOOK

Valentine optimistic as pitchers find form


Staff writer

Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi didn't come out of Tuesday's game against the Orix Buffaloes with a win, but he should've gained a lot of confidence.

News photo
Long road back: Chiba Lotte pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi is looking to regain the form that made him one of Japanese baseball's top pitchers in 2007. KYODO PHOTO

Kobayashi (0-2) gave up three runs in Lotte's 4-3 loss but struck out seven and walked only two in his best start of the season.

"My pitching felt better," Kobayashi said after the game. "I feel like I can get better in my next start."

The strikeouts represented a season-high and the three earned runs were a season low in Kobayashi's four starts.

It was a welcoming sign for a player in need of some good news.

Kobayashi was brilliant during the 2007 season, going 13-3 with a 2.69 ERA to help lead the Marines within one game of reaching the Japan Series. The veteran pitcher regressed last season, finishing 5-12 with a 5.02 ERA.

This season hasn't started much better, with Kobayashi giving up 19 earned runs over his first four starts. Against Orix on Tuesday, however, there were flashes of the '07 model Kobayashi during his six innings on the mound.

"His location," manager Bobby Valentine said of the reason for Kobayashi's recent struggles on Wednesday. "Yesterday his location was better, his fastball was down more and he was able to throw aggressive fastballs inside and down. I think that makes all his other pitches better. He's been up too much with his fastball."

Chiba Lotte's starting rotation has been slow out of the gate this season, which has led to a 8-13 record through Wednesday. The Marines have a Japanese baseball-high 4.98 ERA, but nobody in Chiba is pushing the panic button after 21 games.

"I think we're getting better," Valentine said. "Our starting pitching really struggled early. We traded away one of our starters and I think it left a little gap because (Shunsuke) Watanabe and (Yoshihisa) Naruse weren't with us.

"Now that they're back, I think the starting pitching is stabilizing and that's one of the keys to the team."

Streaking toward a milestone: Masahiro Tanaka's most recent complete game couldn't have come at a better time for Tohoku Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura.

Tanaka extended his complete-game streak to four, in a 2-1 victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Wednesday that gave Nomura his milestone 1,500th victory of his managerial career.

Nomura is currently fifth all-time in managerial wins, trailing former Nankai Hawks manager Kazuto Tsuruoka (1,773), former Nishitetsu Lions skipper Osamu Mihara (1,687), Hanshin Tigers manager Sadayoshi Fujimoto (1,657) and Yomiuri Giants manager Shigeru Mizuhara (1,585).

Nomura is 1,500-1,506 in his career in the dugout, winning three Japan Series titles with the Swallows in 1993, '95 and '97.

Tanaka, meanwhile, continued his stellar start to the season, allowing one run on four hits and fanning 11 in the victory.

The one run he allowed raised his ERA to 0.55, the lowest in Japanese baseball.



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