Before a recent game against the Yomiuri Giants, a rival Central League player remarked that rookie Hirokazu Sawamura might become the Giants’ best hurler once he really learns how to pitch.
The young star isn’t ready to go quite that far yet. First, he wants to help the slumping Giants get things turned around. Then, he says, he’ll worry about his stats.
“My own numbers aside, the Giants have been struggling to pick up wins and get over .500,” Sawamura told the Japan Times in a recent interview. “As for myself, I also haven’t performed as well as expected.
“But it’s only been two months since Opening Day. We have a long way to go. We’ll get everything in perspective and put it all together.”
In nine starts this year, Sawamura is 2-4 with a 2.20 ERA, and 1.17 WHIP. He’s pitched much better than his record suggests, with the surprisingly sluggish Giants offense averaging just 2.1 runs in his starts.
There have been mistakes however, which is to be expected out of a first-year player. But while the Chuo University product hasn’t made a seamless transition from the Tohto University Baseball League to the CL, Sawamura is showing improvement with each outing.
“The biggest difference between collegiate and professional baseball is getting control of your breaking balls,” Sawamura said. “If you have good control with breaking balls it’s a great advantage even when you have an unfavorable count.”
Sawamura is making strides with his off-speed pitches, but he leans heavily on a fastball that touches 155 kph, made scouts salivate during his college days and has sometimes gotten the best of pro hitters.
“It’s important,” Sawamura said of his fastball. “It’s an advantage if you also have a good slider, curve and forkball. At the same time, if you don’t have a good fastball you can’t coordinate your pitching.”
Though he’s just a rookie, Sawamura hasn’t been afraid to challenge hitters, which has produced less than favorable results in some instances.
His mistakes have helped highlight the facets of his game he needs to improve in order to become the pitcher the hype surrounding him suggests he should be.
“I need to improve both mentally and technically,” Sawamura said. “I especially need to improve my decisive balls. Not pitches that put the count in my favor, but pitches that become like weapons, such as a ball that’s out of the strike zone which I can use to strike out batters.
“If it stays in the strike zone, it’s meaningless. You can create a favorable count, but you can’t retire the batter. So I need to have better out pitches.”
Sawamura was highly sought after coming out of college, even drawing measured interest from some major league clubs. The righty made a name for himself with his blazing fastball and even set a student record by unfurling a 157 kph pitch at Jingu Stadium last year.
The Giants chose him in the first round of the 2010 draft, a result the young star admits he was hoping for.
“I wanted to join the Giants,” Sawamura said. “But no matter who you play for, the important thing is how you play.”
The rookie has impressed onlookers around the league with the flashes of talent he’s displayed at times on the mound. The praise will keep coming as he learns how to control an already reputable arsenal of pitches.
Sawamura said he read in the paper Hanshin Tigers star Matt Murton said Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish reminded him of MLB great Roger Clemens.
He hopes he’s the subject of such a comparison one day.
“I’ll be really happy if somebody says similar things about me in the future,” Sawamura said.