CHIBA – The Chiba Lotte Marines’ Yuki Karakawa continued his hot start to the season, pitching a four-hit shutout to lead the Japan Series champions past the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 4-0 on Saturday.
Karakawa won his fourth straight start with his second shutout of the season, after losing his first game of the year against the Eagles on April 13. He blanked the Seibu Lions on April 20 also at QVC Marine Field.
The 21-year-old homegrown right-hander had Rakuten baffled throughout the afternoon, walking one during a 124-pitch outing as he lowered his ERA to a Pacific League best 1.14.
This season’s sentimental favorites from Sendai were in scoring position just once against Karakawa in the third, when Ryo Hijirisawa stole second after reaching on an infield single.
“It wasn’t easy for me today, from start to finish,” said Karakawa, whose teammates scored twice in the opening frame thanks to an RBI single by Kim Tae Kyun and a sac fly by Toshiaki Imae that scored Tadahito Iguchi.
“We played great defense throughout the game. I’m not concerned about individual numbers. What matters to me is that I’m helping the team win.”
“He pitched a nice game,” second-year Lotte manager Norifumi Nishimura said of his fourth-year pitcher. “He had a hard time keeping the ball down from about the seventh inning but until then, he was really good.”
Rakuten’s offense stayed anemic as the Eagles were shut out for the fifth time in their last 10 games. They have the fewest runs in Japanese baseball with 57 after 26 games.
Eagles rookie Takahiro Shiomi (1-1) had the shortest outing of his brief career, leaving the game with two outs in the fifth to take his first loss.
The Marines’ Takayuki Takaguchi thought he had gone yard to lead off the fifth when he drove the first pitch he saw from Shiomi into the left-field bleachers.
Yet the umpiring crew took away what would have been Takaguchi’s first homer — and his first hit, period — of the season after reviewing the shot on video, which showed the ball sailing just wide of the foul pole.
Lotte padded out its lead in the sixth with pinch-hitter Kazuya Fukuura’s two-out, two-RBI single.
It’s still early in 2011, but Karakawa, who won a career-high six games last season, hopes he can be another dependable arm for the Marines.
“If someone like me can give (Naruse) a little energy to feed off, all the better for the team,” Karakawa said.
Fighters 11, Buffaloes 2
At Hakodate, Hokkaido Nippon Ham tore into Orix starter Hiroshi Kisanuki (0-3) for eight runs in the second inning as Bobby Keppel improved to 3-0 after allowing one run on five hits over seven innings.
Hawks 3, Lions 0
At Yahoo Dome, Toshiya Sugiuchi (1-2) struck out 15 while throwing a four-hit shutout as Softbank sent Seibu to its seconds straight defeat.
Swallows 2, BayStars 0
At Yokohama Stadium, Wladimir Balentien went deep again, following up Friday’s three-homer performance with his 13th blast of the year off Yokohama starter Kentaro Takasaki (1-4), who took the loss despite limiting first-place Yakult to one earned run over eight innings.
Carp 5, Giants 4
At Mazda Stadium, Yoshiyuki Ishihara pushed in the winning run with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth after being hit by a pitch from Yomiuri closer Levi Romero.
Romero (0-1) also allowed the tying run with a wild pitch.
Dragons 4, Tigers 3
At Koshien Stadium, Chen Wei-yin (1-1) pitched six scoreless innings to pick up his first victory of the season.