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Monday, May 2, 2011

NPB NOTEBOOK

Woes on mound continue to trouble Yomiuri


Staff writer

Starting pitching had been pegged as one of the Yomiuri Giants' problem spots prior to the beginning of the Japanese baseball season.

News photo
Good sign: Rookie Hirokazu Sawamura has been one of the few bright spots in the Yomiuri rotation. KYODO

With Shun Tono and Tetsuya Utsumi leading the way, the pitching staff's cast of characters was largely already known. The question was, how would the story unfold?

After 14 games, things are just beginning but chapter one has been a doozy.

Utsumi shut down the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on the second day of the season, but Giants' starters have registered just two victories since then.

Seven pitchers have started games for the Giants this year and collectively have registered just three wins.

One of the few bright spots in the rotation has been rookie Hirokazu Sawamura. The Chuo University product won his way into the rotation over the spring and has been solid thus far.

In his first three professional starts, Sawamura has given up four runs and is 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 15 strikeouts.

With their home opener at Tokyo Dome scheduled for Tuesday against the Hanshin Tigers, the Kyojin will hope the more experienced hurlers on the team step up and follow the rookie's example.

Three's company: Chiba Lotte Marines ace Yoshihisa Naruse struck out 12 in a shutout victory over the Orix Buffaloes on April 27. Later that night, Tohoku Rakuten's Hisashi Iwakuma fanned 13 in a win over the Seibu Lions and Hokkaido Nippon Ham's Yu Darvish struck out 10 Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in a win.

That marked the second time in Pacific League history that three pitchers recorded double-digit strikeouts in victories on the same day.

The first instance came when former Seibu hurler, and the team's current manager, Hisanobu Watanabe and Orix BlueWave starter Nobuyuki Hoshino each struck out 10 and Nippon Ham Fighters hurler Yasumitsu Shibata struck out 11 all on the same day in 1989.

The last time it happened in the Central League was during the 1961 season with the trio of Chunichi Dragons pitcher Hiroshi Gondo, Hanshin Tigers hurler Minoru Murayama and Kokutetsu Swallows legend Masaichi Kaneda doing the honors.

What a start: Seibu Lions young infielder Hideto Asamura is embarking on his first year as a regular in the Seibu lineup, but he's started the year like a grizzled veteran.

After a scorching spring, Asamura began the regular season with a 12-game hitting streak and is hitting .377 in the season's early stages.

Asamura played in 30 games and had 42 at-bats in 2010 (he's already had 47 at-bats this year) and the Lions are expecting big things their season.

Throwing darts: Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish hit a new milestone on Tuesday against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Darvish struck out 10, a total that also included the 1,000th strikeout of his career.

Darvish is the seventh-fastest to reach the mark, needing 1058⅔ innings.

The fastest was Kintetsu Buffaloes hurler Hideo Nomo, who needed only 871 innings to reach 1,000. Nomo is the only pitcher to record 1,000 strikeouts in fewer than 900 innings. Current Seibu Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii was the second fastest to 1,000, reaching the mark in his 913 innings with the Yakult Swallows.



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