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Iwakuma flying high for Eagles

by Jason Coskrey

Hisashi Iwakuma seems to have finally arrived for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Iwakuma is in his fourth-year with the club and after a substandard 2005 followed by a pair of injury-plagued seasons, he has regained the form that twice made him a 15-game winner with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

The veteran hurler has been a force on the mound this season, going 7-2 over his first 10 starts to become the NPB’s first seven-game winner this year and equal his win total of the past two seasons combined.

After Friday’s start, his 2.05 ERA is third only to Hokkaido Nippon Ham pitcher Yu Darvish’s 1.52 mark and Seibu’s Kazuyuki Hoashi (1.82) in the Pacific League.

Even more impressive is that Iwakuma has allowed only home run this season in 74 2/3 innings pitched.

“I never let it go over the fence,” he told reporters after beating the PL-leading Seibu Lions on May 16.

Iwakuma has given the home fans their money’s worth with a 4-0 record in four starts at Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium.

About the only thing that hasn’t gone well is a pair of losses to the Fighters at Sapporo Dome, where he’s allowed six runs in 12 2/3 innings.

The Eagles have fed off Iwakuma’s early season form and have been one of the surprises of the young season, sitting just one game below .500 at 23-24 and a half-game behind the third-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the standings.

Iwakuma is still looking for his first winning season with the Eagles (he finished 9-15 in 2005, 1-2 in 2006 and 5-5 last season). But if he can stay healthy, the past three seasons should look like distant memories to Rakuten fans.

“I am in very good condition,” he said, “but I don’t care about stats.”

Man in charge: The Orix Buffaloes were behind the eight ball from the beginning of the season, having lost their top two starting pitchers, Tom Davey and Yoshihisa Hirano to injuries during the spring.

Now the Buffs have to deal with the departure of their manager, Terry Collins, as the team tries to claw its way into contention in the Pacific League.

For now the onus falls on interim manager Daijiro Oishi, a former gold glove-winning second baseman for the Kintetsu Buffaloes to right the ship.

The 53-year old, who retired as a player in 1997, won the stolen base title four times during his playing career. He is the oldest player to lead the league in stolen bases, doing so at age 35 in 1993.

Oishi joined Kintetsu in 2003 as a fielding coach.

In 2005, he became the head coach of Orix’s farm team, the Kobe Surpass, and became the team’s interim manager during that same year. He lost the interim tag in 2006 before moving to the ichigun team as the head coach.

Slump busters: The Yomiuri Giants were crowned preseason favorites to win the Japan Series by many largely because of their explosive offensive potential.

After churning out a number of disappointing performances this season, the Giants had their breakout game on Tuesday night against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Yomiuri scored 12 runs, cranked out 23 hits and had all nine starting batters record at least one hit.

In fact, seven of the nine had multiple-hit nights and Ryota Wakiya’s lone hit came on a triple.

The Giants scored 20 runs during the two-game set against the Marines and hope they have finally begun to find some consistency at the plate.

Now if they could just get some of their pitchers, who gave up 11 runs and 14 hits to the Marines on Tuesday, to come around the Kyojin will truly be something to marvel.

Bringing the heat: Retired star Tsuyoshi Shinjo clocked 145 kph while pitching to former Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters teammate, and his successor in center field, Hichori Morimoto while throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Fighters faced the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks at Yahoo Dome on Sunday.

Ever the showman, Shinjo, who was using a golden glove and decked out in a Softbank jersey complete with, what else, a giant picture of his face instead of a number on the back, and Morimoto eschewed a simple first pitch in favor of a full at-bat, complete with an umpire calling balls and strikes.

The stunt appeared to be a hit with the fans as Shinjo took a mini-victory lap before tossing the glove to the crowd.

For those scoring at home, Morimoto grounded out to short on a 2-2 count.