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Fighters’ hitters not getting job done for team or Darvish

by Jason Coskrey

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are getting what they paid for in terms of power numbers this season, which unfortunately for them isn’t a whole lot.

The frugal Fighters tightened their purse strings this winter despite an anemic lineup that lost its main power hitter when Terrmel Sledge headed south to play for the Yokohama BayStars.

It was the wrong decision to allow Sledge to walk without making a major play to bring him back or acquire some outside muscle.

It’s a sad state of affairs that a team with the recent run of success the Fighters have enjoyed either doesn’t have the money, or isn’t willing to spend it, to go out and strengthen its attack.

The inefficiency on offense has crept into the pitching staff as well and is a big reason why ace Yu Darvish can’t seem to buy a win these days.

Which is the most troubling thing of all. Because if the Fighters can’t win with Darvish on the mound, what hope do they have in the long run?

Not signing an at least halfway decent power threat is a decision that seems more baffling each day the Fighters are stuck in unfamiliar territory at the bottom of the standings.

Tuffy Rhodes, Fernando Seguignol and Tyrone Woods are just a few of the sluggers out there in a market that has a number of options to explore.

Instead, the Fighters have taken the cheap route, slapped light hitting Tomohiro Nioka (.295, four homers and 22 RBIs) into the cleanup spot for the moment, and continued to languish in last place with no indication help is on the way.

Struggles at the dish are nothing new to a team that has usually relied on its pitching.

To their credit, that formula produced a Japan Series win, three regular-season pennants and three PL Climax Series titles over the last four seasons.

Nippon Ham’s lineup was no Murderers’ Row back then either, but with a revolving door of Michihiro Ogasawara (left via free agency in 2006), Seguignol (not re-signed after 2007) and Sledge, pairing with Atsunori Inaba, the offense did enough to get the job done.

During that span, the pitching staff was performing at a high-enough level that the Fighters won despite their offense. This year, they’re losing because of it.

Underscoring the new order of things, is Darvish’s plight.

Despite an 1.67 ERA and Japanese-baseball leading 95 strikeouts, Darvish is 4-4 this season and without a win since May 1.

In the four games since his last victory, Darvish is 0-2 with a 1.16 ERA after allowing seven runs — four earned — and striking out 18 over 31 innings. Nippon Ham managed just three runs in those games, twice being shut out.

Darvish gives this team its best chance to win, but the Fighters are putting his talents to waste by not supporting him at the plate.

His frustrations will only mount if he continues to produce quality starts that pay no dividends.

Because whatever Darvish’s future ambitions are, winning games will be a big part of the equation.

Maybe he’ll bite his tongue and continue to dominate. Or maybe he’ll mastermind an exit to the major leagues sooner than expected.

Either way, Darvish is the one man the Fighters need to keep happy.

Injuries are a part of the problem, but they aren’t the main problem.

Until Nippon Ham opens up its wallet, or develops a slugger who can put up consistent power numbers, their struggles will continue.