The Hanshin Tigers had ample opportunity to turn this one into a laugher with lefthander Katsuhiko Maekawa on the mound for the Orix Buffaloes,.but the big hits didn't come until Maekawa was long gone in what ended as a 3-1 Tigers victory in front of a sellout house Saturday at Aki, Kochi Prefecture. Hirotaka Egusa made a nice case for a rotation job with four shutout innings on three hits, though he didn't get the decision. That went to reliever Takehito Kanazawa, who also held Orix scoreless, but for two frames, on a hit as he comes back from a serious arm surgery.
Hanshin put together its first threat in the second, as rightfielder Osamu Hamanaka rifled a single to right and third baseman Makoto Imoka singled to left. One out later, leftfielder Lin Wei-tzu singled to left, but Hamanaka chose to not test the arm of leftfielder Hiroaki Onishi and the bases were loaded. Instead of Akihiro Yano in the catcher's spot here, that position was filled by backup Toshihiro Noguchi, who bounded into a 6-4-3 twin killing to kill the rally.
Then in the third, centerfielder Norihiro Akahoshi walked with one away. With second baseman Kentaro Sekimoto, who would finish 4-4 on the day, up, Akahoshi got a slightly tardy start in his attempt to thieve second and was pegged out by Buffs receiver Daisuke Maeda. That would be big, because Sekimoto singled to center and first baseman Andy Sheets singled to left for what should have been an RBI but wasn't. Maekawa subsequently induced a ground ball out of Hamanaka and another opportunity for the Tigers went by the wayside.
Daisuke Kato replaced Maekawa for
the fourth and put Hanshin away in order, but in the fifth, the home side
finally broke through when Akahoshi leadoff by slapping a fastball into
centerfield for a single and Sekimoto also lined one back through the middle
to put men on first and second. Sheets socked a shot to the centerfield
wall and Akahoshi cruised home while Sekimoto
Orix would produce only a lone hit from the fifth to the seventh. Hanshin would then obtain some insurance in the seventh, as rookie Chihiro Kaneko walked reserve first baseman So Tsutsui to open things and he went to second on a sac bunt from rookie shortstop Yamato Maeda. One out later, Sekimoto pulled a single into left and Tsutsui sped in to make it 3-0.
Reliever Masashi Sajikihara had retired the first four men he faced, but he left a cookie in the wheelhouse of substitute second baseman Shogo Makita and the career scrubeenie pounded it beyond the rightfield wall to close within 3-1. That would be all for the visitors, however, as Sajikihara got the next man and Darwin Cubillan, pinning the gun at 92mph, tossed a couple of ground balls and a flyout in the ninth to seal it. It was Cubillan's first save in any situation in Japan.
Yamato Maeda made a hellacious diving stop of a basehit bid by first baseman Jason Grabowski, but by the time he was in throwing position, Grabowski was about to hit the bag and so Maeda did what he should have, eat the ball.
Orix skipper Katsuhiro Nakamura was in charge of the onfield moves for the first time in 11 years.
When Akahoshi scored the first run of a game last season, Hanshin was 29-6.
Sajikihara, who is goiing to get significant innings this spring with the absences of Jeff Williams to rehabbing his knee and Kyuji Fujikawa to the WBC, said that he was having trouble with control of his heater. He was clocked at 92mph.
Egusa's high on his fastball was 90mph.
Game Time: 2:08
Hiroshima Carp first baseman Kenta Kurihara nearly took care of this one himself, as he blasted a pair of homers for four RBIs to spearhead a 7-4 victory over the Softbank Hawks Saturday at Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture. Hawks starter Kazumi Saito, who was originally scheduled to relieve in this game, was moved into the starter's role due to what appeared to be threatening weather and coaches wanted to ensure that the big righthander got his work in.
The important thing here was that Hiroshima actually displayed some productive capacity at the plate, as they have had trouble all spring to this point scoring runs. Thanks to Kurihara, who now has five homers if you include the practice and intrasquad games, they were able to outlast a retooling Softbank congregation.
Hiroshima seized the upper hand in the bottom of the first, as freshman second baseman Eishin Soyogi leadoff with a walk and shortstop Takaaki Matsumoto singled to left. The count went to 1-1 to Kurihara, who then got a hanging forkball about thigh high and the former minor league homer king crushed it on to the berm that constitutes the outfield seating in this particular facility just to the right of the foul pole in left to put the fish ahead 3-0. Saito later revealed that Kurihara's roundtripper woke him up and even if he gave up two hits afterward, both were of the infield variety, as he began moving his fastball around the strike zone while keeping it out of the more dangerous sectors of it and he ended his two inning stint without incurring further damage.
But reliever Hideaki Takahashi would allow the Hawks to fall further behind in the fourth, when catcher Yoshikazu Kura doubled to left and third baseman Keiji Fukui converted him with an RBI single to right for a 4-0 Carp edge.
In the fifth, Kurihara did it again, as Takahashi threw a fastball down in the zone and saw it punished on a high, majestic trajectory over the leftcenterfield wall. DH Itsuki Asai doubled to right. Centerfielder Jun Hirose sent him scampering in with a single to left. Leftfielder Shigeru Morikasa torqued a double to right and Hirose flew to the pay station to widen it to 7-0.
Kenta Satake took the ball from reliever Masaki Hayshi for the sixth and retired the first two men who dug in against him, but then backup shortstop Akihiro Higashide fumbled Shotaro Ide's grounder and rookie third sacker Nobuhiro Matsuda laid into a pitch and jackhammered it into the great wide open in left to cut the disparity to 7-2.
They doubled that in their next
turn, when first baseman Tadaatsu Nakazawa doubled to left with one out
and came around on a double by second baseman Yuichi Honda. Catcher Naoki
Matoba singled to right, Honda stoppping at third. Centerfielder
Ryuma Kidokoro grounded out to second, Honda scoring on the play, and the
deficit was reduced to three at 7-4. Carp.
On his dinger, Matsuda asserted, "I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it." If he can make the Opening Day lineup, he would be the first Hawks rookie right out of college to do that since Hiroki Kokubo in 1994, also a third baseman.. He is also the first Hawks rookie right out of college to homer in an exhibition game since Tadahito Iguchi in 1997. But Iguchi did it in this second pre-season battle, so Matsuda beat that.
Saito was relatively unphased by his less than optimum outing. "I was able to put my fastball where I wanted it. I didn't feel too bad out there."
Nakazawa, who was released by Chunichi after last season and then was signed by Softbank after a tryout, begins this season with three hits, or, as the Japanese call it, a modasho.
Marte flashed a good heavy fastball and a solid changeup, striking out the last two men in that ninth inning to turn the lights out.
Despite the numbers he put up in this game, Kurihara doesn't think that he is in a very good groove right now. Go figure.
Hiroshima starter Takayuki Oshima, who twirled three shutout innings on three hits, rated his performance at 70 on a 100 scale.
Game Time: 2:46
is the second straight year that the Dragons' exhibition opener has been
washed out. That isn't so bad, though. Last season, they had seven straight
contests postponed due to bad weather.
Most affected, though, was Kenichi Nakata, whose start is now past tense. Akifumi Takahashi will start Sunday.
Hanshin Sidewinder Takashi Aiki will make an appearance in Sunday's game. Saturday, he prepared for it by throwing a 45 pitch side session.
Chris Oxspring threw 105 pitches in the bullpen Saturday as a coach was helping him with keeping his front side closed. He'll make his exhibition debut on March 4th against Orix at Osaka Dome.
Yakult Diminutive lefthander Masanori Ishikawa did some running and weightlifting, but didn't throw, as he looks forward to starting Sunday against Nippon Ham. "I really want to get [ex-teammate Atsunori] Inaba out," Ishikawa said.
Pitcher Dicky Gonzalez will be part of Puerto Rico's WBC nine, so, by default, Ricky Guttormsen gets the rotation slot they would have been battling for. Manager Atsuya Furuta expressed hope that Gonzalez will be ready to hit the ground running by Opening Day once the tourney ends. .
Yokohama Rookie pitcher Kazuya Takamiya was scheduled to start against Nippon Ham, but that one was rained out. So he will be slid on over to Sunday's tilt with Chunichi by being inserted into a relief role.
As a way of expressing gratitude to the fans who ventured out to the stadium only to see the game canceled, manager Kazuhiko Ushijima held an autograph and talk session at an indoor practice facility. About 700 fans took advantage of the opportunity.
Pitcher Jason Beverlin was reunited with his former boss in the Yankees farm system, Fighters skipper Trey Hillman, at that indoor practice facility. The pair reportedly talked about their families and what they've been doing recently.
Closer Mark Kroon threw 22 slow curve balls during his 76 pitch bullpen session Saturday. He still has a couple issues to work out with it, as he was tipping it off until pitching coach Hideyuki Awano helped him correct that. Now he has to get more consistent control with it.
Yomiuri Righthander Yushi Aida drew some comparisons to Swallows reliever Shingo Takatsu during a practice game Saturday with Yakult's minor league outfit. Pitching coach Masaki Saito said that he liked Aida's ability to throw strikes with his breaking ball. That has gotten him a chance to appear in an early March exhibition contest. "If he gets good results there then he might be given a chance at making the team out of spring training," Saito averred.
Father Teruo Aida used to pitch for Yakult in the 1970's, only he dropped all the way down to a submarine delivery.
Also in the above game, rookie hurler Masafumi Togano no went two shutout innings on one hit and was clocked at 88mph.
Number one high school draft pick Takanobu Tsujiuchi threw a personal pro high of 131 pitches, displayng very good command of the lower portions of the outside corner and he had a nice curveball to compliment his fastball. "My mechanics felt better on the curve," said the Osaka Toinj High grad afterward.
Righthander Hiroshi Kisanuki watched as closer Kiyoshi Toyoda threw a bullpen session Saturday, attempting to pick up something from him that would help his control. After winning the Rookie of the Year Award three years ago, Kisanuki's career has gone steadily downhill thanks in large part to injuries and inconsistent control.
First baseman Joe Dillon worked out at third base as well as his natural position Saturday and tweeked his back. "It's no big deal," Dillon told the press. Nonetheless, he will be held out of a practice game with Hiroshima Sunday as a result.
According to Sports Nippon, tickets to the Giants Opening Day game at Tokyo Dome are completely sold out. Always better to see games at Meiji Jingu Stadium anyway.
WBC Righthander Hiroki Kuroda, who was hit in the hand Friday by a shot off the bat of Naoyuki Omura and suffered an index finger bruise, decided to pull out of the tournament. Hanshin closer Tomoyuki Kubota will replace him. However, with Kubota and ace middle man Kyuji Fujikawa now away and lefthander Jeff Williams' recovery from kneee surgery going slower than expected, there is some concern in the Hanshin camp as to how this will ultimately affect the start the Tigers get off to when the bell rings.
Miscellaneous Kenji Johjima will make his Mariners intrasquad debut on Tuesday, according to Chunichi Sports.