There’s just something about May that brings out the best in Toshiya Sugiuchi.
After a slow start to the season, the Softbank pitcher enjoyed a renaissance in May, putting the finishing touches on one of the best months Japanese baseball has seen in a long time with a five-hit, eight-strikeout complete-game drubbing of the Yomiuri Giants on May 31.
That performance came in front of the Hawks’ injured star pitcher Kazumi Saito.
“I didn’t want to show a poor performance in front of Saito-san,” Sugiuchi told reporters afterward.
He hasn’t shown a poor performance in front of anyone for the past month.
Sugiuchi finished May with a 4-0 record and a 0.86 ERA in five starts.
Sugiuchi just missed getting five wins in as many starts by not factoring into the decision of the Hawks’ May 24 game against the Hanshin Tigers. He threw seven innings of one-run ball in that game, which the Hawks lost 5-2.
That contest represented Sugiuchi’s shortest outing during a month that featured three complete-game victories. Dating back to last season “Mr. May,” as some media outlets have dubbed him, is a perfect 9-0 in the month.
It was announced Tuesday that his stellar month had earned him his PL-record-tying fifth monthly MVP award.
“May is not too hot or too cool,” Sugiuchi told reporters. “So I was in the best condition in May.”
His strikeout totals have been equally impressive. He began the month with 12 punchouts against the Orix Buffaloes on May 2, then fanned nine against Hokkaido Nippon Ham on May 10 before humiliating the Fighters again with a 12-K outing on May 17.
Sugiuchi began the interleague campaign with a 10-strikeout taming of the Central League-leading Tigers on May 24 before cutting down Giants on May 31.
Through Thursday, Sugiuchi had 98 strikeouts, tied for the highest total in Japanese baseball.
Hiroshima Carp pitcher Colby Lewis, who leads the Central League, also has 98.
Nippon Ham ace Yu Darvish is third with 87.
“I want to bring this momentum into June and contribute to the team,” Sugiuchi said.
After getting off to a slow start, the Fukuoka native has been red-hot.
Following a 5-0 loss to the Chiba Lotte Marines on April 25, Sugiuchi was just 1-3 with a bloated 4.43 ERA on the season.
He has arguably been the best pitcher in either league since then and, through Thursday, had improved his record to 5-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.65.
National team manager Senichi Hoshino also watched Sugiuchi’s performance against the Giants live, something that was not lost on the Hawks ace.
“Olympics? If I have the chance, I want to go and play in the Olympics and get some spotlight,” Sugiuchi said when asked if he coveted a spot on the Olympic roster.
Big two: While Chiba Lotte’s Yuki Karakawa is playing on the ichigun level, the other two-thirds of the trio that was dubbed the “High School Big 3″ before the latest amateur draft are still laboring on the farm.
The two highly touted young talents, Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Sho Nakata and Tokyo Yakult pitcher Yoshinori Sato, met Wednesday in an Eastern League matchup.
Nakata homered to right-center in his first at-bat and went deep again with a shot to left in the fifth inning of the Fighters’ 7-1 victory. Nakata finished the game 2-for-4, driving in three runs with a pair of homers. He is currently batting .264 with a league-leading nine home runs and 21 RBIs in 37 games.
Sato, meanwhile, fell to 4-2 with a 5.19 ERA, taking the loss after allowing four runs on seven hits in one-plus inning.
For the record, Karakawa, who is 3-1 with the top team, had a rough night on Thursday, allowing four runs on six hits in a loss to the Chunichi Dragons.
Rami watch: Yomiuri star Alex Ramirez went 0-for-4 on Friday, snapping his hitting streak at 27 games.
Ramirez, who was batting .338 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs through Thursday, tied former Shochiku Robins (a franchise that formed with the Taiyo Whales, which later became the Yokohama BayStars, in 1952) player Yoshiyuki Iwamoto and Yoshinori Hirose, formerly of the Nankai Hawks, for the seventh-longest streak in Japanese baseball history.
Ramirez, who was hitting at a .421 clip in the previous 27 games before Friday (with 10 home runs in that span), saw his average climb 79 points during the streak.
He was batting .259 after going 0-for-4 against Hiroshima on May 1, the last time he finished a game without a hit.