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Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

NPB NOTEBOOK

Fighters dependent on Darvish in playoffs


Staff writer

Now that the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have taken care of the pennant, it's time to take care of Yu Darvish.

News photo
Dynamic duo: The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have the PL's top offense but will need big contributions from pitchers Yu Darvish (top) and Tomoya Yagi (center) if they hope to win the Japan Series. KYODO PHOTO

Darvish hasn't pitched for the Fighters since Sept. 20 and was taken off the active roster on Sept. 23 with a strained lower back. He's been removed from the roster twice this season, including on Aug. 22 for a tired shoulder.

The Fighters ace has only recently begun throwing off a mound again and the team is still unsure of his status.

Despite Nippon Ham's imposing offense, a healthy Darvish could hold the key to the team's Japan Series ambitions.

Because while Darvish has been as untouchable as ever, the rest of the Fighters' pitchers have had an up-and-down season.

Darvish posted a sparkling 1.73 ERA in 182 innings this season, finishing 15-5. Nippon Ham's other starters had a combined ERA of 4.38, while the Fighters relievers had a collective ERA of 3.38 through Tuesday.

Among other Nippon Ham hurlers with at least 100 innings pitched (Masaru Takeda, Tomoya Yagi, Brian Sweeney and Shugo Fujii), only Yagi has an ERA under 3.00.

Yagi has been reliable in 20 starts, going 9-3 with a 2.88 ERA this year. Meanwhile, Takeda (9-9, 3.69), Sweeney (5-8, 5.32) and Fuji (7-5, 3.53) have been unpredictable.

They've been supported by the Fighters' worst-to-first offensive which leads the Pacific League in batting average (.279) and runs scored (681).

A suddenly potent attack at the plate will relieve some of the pressure on Nippon Ham's hurlers in the playoffs and can give the pitching staff the run support it needs to be successful.

The team also has the advantage of an automatic one-game lead in the second stage of the Climax Series.

Essentially playing with house money in Game 1 gives the Fighters the possible option of throwing Yagi against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles or Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Which could put a fresh Darvish on the mound in Game 2 pitching for either a commanding 3-0 series lead or, at worst, a 2-1 advantage.

Having those two in the arsenal should have visions of 2006 dancing in the heads of Fighters fans. After all, it was just three short seasons ago that Darvish and Yagi got on a roll in the postseason to lead a team with similar offensive talents to the Japan Series title.



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