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Collins hopes Kiyohara can return next April

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After winning the first game of their July 3-5 series against the Chiba Lotte Marines, the Orix Buffaloes lost the final two games. When the dust settled, two games wasn’t all they lost.

Orix star Kazuhiro Kiyohara, 39, will undergo knee surgery to repair damage in his left knee, it was revealed on Wednesday. The surgery is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. It’s a big blow to the Buffaloes, who could use his bat and veteran leadership.

“I love Kiyohara,” Orix manager Terry Collins said. “It would help our team to have him around. I’ve talked to him. He wants to come back. I told him, ‘Don’t think you have to be ready by Jan. 1.’ He’ll do some things with the doctors and we’ll do a little more during spring training and hopefully he’ll be ready to go by April.”

The injury has plagued Kiyohara in recent months, and the slugger has not appeared with the “ichigun” team this season. The announcement of the upcoming surgery comes just five months after he underwent an endoscopic procedure on the same knee in February. Although it was a serious injury that sidelined him, the proud slugger acted as if he had let his team down.

“He said ‘I don’t belong in the dugout,’ ” Collins said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?This is your playground. You’re the face of Japanese baseball. Why wouldn’t you want to be in the dugout?’ I finally got him to come into the dugout and he still wouldn’t come all the way in.”

Collins calls Kiyohara one of his favorite players, adding that the Buffaloes will miss having him on the field.

“He’s what a baseball player is supposed to be,” the Orix skipper said. I told him ‘If you think you need to have this surgery, go ahead. I support you in whatever you want to do.’ “

Despite all of his accomplishments and fame, it’s Kiyohara’s never-wavering dedication that seems to have impressed his new manager the most. With all that he has done, not many would’ve faulted the star if he had decided to hang up his cleats and retire. Instead, the Osaka native is still going strong and hopes to get healthy and make a return.

One of the most popular players in Japanese baseball history, Kiyohara was a teammate of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Masumi Kuwata during their high school days at national powerhouse PL Gakuen. The pair led the school to two Koshien titles.

Kiyohara currently ranks fifth in Japanese baseball history with 525 home runs and has amassed 2,118 hits. He has a .272 career batting average with 1,527 RBIs in 22 seasons with the Seibu Lions, Yomiuri Giants and Orix.

“He’s playing and he doesn’t have to be,” Collins said. “He didn’t ask for any money. . . . Nothing like that. He’s about to have this surgery and go through this grueling rehab just because he wants to be a baseball player.”

Darvish tosses gem

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Yu Darvish pitched a one-hitter and struck out 10 in his second shutout of the season Friday, helping the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Lotte Marines 2-0 and regain the lead in the Pacific League.

Atsunori Inaba gave Darvish (7-4) all the run support he would need with a two-run homer off submariner Shunsuke Watanabe (6-4) in the sixth inning after Kensuke Tanaka hit a two-out single to right field at Sapporo Dome.

The only threat Darvish faced was in the second when he allowed a single to Saburo Omura and hit Benny Agbayani with a pitch with none out. The right-hander then got Matt Watson to hit into a double play and retired Tasuku Hashimoto on a groundout.

Darvish retired the side in order in the other innings en route to his ninth complete game this season, tops in Japanese baseball. He also increased his league-leading strikeout total to 127 while lowering his ERA to 2.18, third in the PL.

Watanabe was also impressive in the pitcher’s duel, giving up four hits and walking one in a complete-game effort. Nippon Ham regained the lead from Lotte in the PL standings.

Buffaloes 10, Eagles 5

At Sendai’s Fullcast Stadium, Greg LaRocca and Tuffy Rhodes hit back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning to put Orix on the way to a win over Tohoku Rakuten.

Keiichi Hirano and Arihito Muramatsu had consecutive singles leading off the game.

Then LaRocca and Rhodes gave the Buffaloes a three-run lead with their doubles off rookie right-hander Satoshi Nagai (3-5).

Keiji Obiki hit his first career homer and Chad Allen delivered a solo shot as Orix built a 7-1 lead through five innings.

Yoshihisa Hirano (5-6) worked seven innings for the win. PL home run leader Takeshi Yamasaki hit his 29th homer for Rakuten.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Swallows 5, Giants 4

At Jingu Stadium, Shinya Miyamoto and Masakazu Fukukawa hit solo homers as Tokyo Yakult edged Yomiuri for its third win in a row.

Miyamoto connected off Norihito Kaneto (6-3) to snap a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning. Fukukawa also homered off the rookie left-hander in the next frame for his third home run in as many games.

Seth Greisinger (10-2) won his sixth consecutive start after allowing three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

Yoshitomo Tani had a two-out RBI single to pull the Giants within a run in the ninth before Masao Kida got Michihiro Ogasawara on a called third strike to end the game.

Tigers 2, Dragons 0

At Nagoya Dome, Lin Wei-zhu singled in two runs in the first inning and veteran lefty Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi picked up his 100th career win as Hanshin blanked Chunichi.

Shimoyanagi (7-4) allowed three hits — all singles — while walking three and fanning six in six innings before Tomoyuki Kubota, Jeff Williams and Kyuji Fujikawa completed the shutout.

BayStars at Carp — ppd.