/

Utsumi could outshine veteran hurlers on Giants this season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

YOKOHAMA — Tetsuya Utsumi might have given the struggling Yomiuri Giants the boost they needed.

The 26-year-old left-hander allowed the Yokohama BayStars to put two runners on base three times (in the second, third, and fifth innings) on Wednesday night, but kept his concentration and got out of the jam each time.

Utsumi’s grit finally paid off in the sixth inning, when cleanup hitter Alex Ramirez blasted a two-run homer off Yokohama’s Takumi Nasuno.

Utsumi, who struck out nine over eight innings, helped the Kyojin grab just their third win of 2008 with a 4-1 victory.

“I was believing (my team) would give me some support,” Utsumi, who earned his first win of the season, said after the game. “I was thinking I had to pitch with patience until I got some run support.”

With the Giants having only three wins, Utsumi kept the triumph in perspective.

“I was able to throw patiently,” Utsumi said. “I hope I can do this from now on, even when my condition isn’t that good.”

Utsumi has a deceptive delivery from which he throws a nasty slider and changeup. But the five-year veteran’s most primary asset appears to be his immovable heart.

On April 2, in his first start this season, Utsumi took a loss after giving up a two-run homer to Chunichi Dragons South Korean slugger Lee Byung Kyu in the sixth following a walk to Kazuhiro Ibata. Until that frame he hadn’t given up a run and had struck out seven.

It was a bitter defeat for Utsumi, but he overcame it quickly, channeling the experience into a positive one.

What he tried to do on the mound was quite simple: not think too much.

So even despite not receiving any run support from his teammates earlier in the contest, Utsumi was still able to remain focused.

“My job is to hold the opponent to as few runs as possible,” Utsumi said. “So I was just trying to focus on that.”

And it wasn’t no different when the BayStars put runners on base.

“When I had runners on base, I was careful not to give an additional hit,” he said. “I was able to do it with a help from (catcher Shinnosuke) Abe.”

With fellow starters Koji Uehara, Hisanori Takahashi and Seth Greisinger not yet in form, Utsumi, who was 14-7 in 2007, and led in the Central League in strikeouts (180) and was third in ERA (3.02), could be a catalyst for the Giants.

“We have to play one game at a time,” Utsumi said. “And hopefully we’ll keep winning. Our goal is of course the championship.”