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Sugiuchi sure Hawks will contend in PL race

by Jason Coskrey

The Central League probably couldn’t get rid of Fukuoka Softbank Hawks pitcher Toshiya Sugiuchi fast enough by the end of the 2009 interleague season.

Sugiuchi was brilliant against the CL during the Koryusen schedule and was rewarded for his efforts on Wednesday by being named the 2009 Interleague MVP.

In six interleague starts the lefty was 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA. He could’ve conceivably had two additional wins if not for blown saves in the ninth inning — both against the Hanshin Tigers — and struck out eight Chunichi Dragons before leaving the game tied 3-3 in his only other no decision on May 31.

The Hawks hurler ended his interleague season by holding the Yokohama BayStars to three hits in a seven-strikeout shutout on June 21.

“I don’t know if I deserve this MVP award because I know there are players who played better than myself,” Sugiuchi said during a news conference to accept the award. “But I guess the last shutout victory made it happen.”

Suguichi’s play helped the Hawks go 18-5-1 against the CL and clinch the club’s second straight interleague title. Softbank finished 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the standings.

More importantly, because of their strong interleague run, the Hawks will resume intraleague play on Friday tied with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for first place in the Pacific League.

Sugiuchi, 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 12 starts in 2009, will have to maintain his level of play if the Hawks hope to compete for the PL crown at season’s end.

He’ll shoulder most of the pressure as the top starter on a injury-riddled staff while the Hawks try to avoid a repeat of 2008 — when they won the interleague crown only to crash to a last-place finish in the PL.

“Last season the team went down after the interleague championship but this year chemistry is very good and the team has depth,” Sugiuchi said. “So I think we can do better than last year.”

Sugiuchi received ¥2 million as the interleague MVP, while Fighters ace Yu Darvish and Dragons slugger Tony Blanco each got a ¥1 million prize.

Darvish was 4-1 with a 1.15 ERA and 40 strikeouts in five starts, while Blanco batted .299 with 11 home runs and 24 RBIs.