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Maeda giving Carp fans reason to cheer

by Jason Coskrey

The Hiroshima Carp don’t have much going for them, but there’s one good reason to take in a game at Mazda Stadium.

Carp hurler Kenta Maeda.

A proverbial diamond in the rough for the struggling Carp, Maeda is 8-2 through 12 games and led the NPB with a 1.52 ERA entering Tuesday.

The Hiroshima pitcher is rubbing shoulders with some of the NPB’s best at this stage of the season, joining Fukuoka Softbank Hawks duo Toshiya Sugiuchi (8-2) and Tsuyoshi Wada (8-3), Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles fireballer Masahiro Tanaka (8-3), the Seibu Lions’ Takayuki Kishi (8-3) and the Yomiuri Giants’ Shun Tono (8-1) in the eight-wins club.

It’s the other numbers that put him in a class by himself.

In his third season, Maeda has shown great command of his arsenal, relying heavily on a fastball that tops off in the low 140′s kph and his slider, evidenced by an NPB-best 0.94 WHIP.

The Carp righty is holding right-handed hitters to a .190 batting average with lefties hitting .228. Overall, opposing batters are hitting a mere .207 against him in 333 at-bats.

Many have gone down swinging, as Maeda currently leads the Central League with 78 strikeouts. His 95 innings pitched is also tops among NPB pitchers.

Maeda was recently named the CL’s pitching MVP for the month of May, going 4-1 with a 1.35 ERA in five starts.

His challenge will be to keep it going for the entire season for the first time in his short career. In 2008, he got off to a rough start and finished strong. He stumbled out of the gates again last season, but again rebounded during the latter half of the year.

Currently Maeda is in the unglamorous position of putting up big numbers for a losing team seemingly destined for a B-class finish.

He can take heart in knowing it was only two seasons ago Rakuten’s Hisashi Iwakuma won a Sawamura Award with a fifth-place club.

After moving from aging Hiroshima Civic Stadium last season, the Carp have given their fans little to cheer about and even fewer reasons to show up at their new ballpark.

Maeda right now is worth the price of admission. Besides, there are far worse things than watching a young pitcher carve up hitters for the home team in a sparkling new stadium.

He may be all the Carp have right now, but there are faint signs on life on the horizon.

Eric Stults got a victory in a rough outing on June 4 against the Hawks. He gave up four runs over 6 2/3 innings against Softbank, but had yielded just two over 19 1/3 in his three previous starts.

The team has also recently welcomed back Kan Otake from a shoulder injury and signed ikusei (developmental roster player) pitcher Dioni Soriano to a regular contract.

For now, the spotlight will remain squarely on Maeda as he takes on the Herculean task of trying to guide the Carp upstream to a winning record.