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Kikuchi shows poise as Lions hold off Buffaloes

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Esteban German broke a scoreless deadlock with a two-run single in the sixth inning, Yusei Kikuchi threw seven gritty innings and the Seibu Lions beat the Orix Buffaloes 2-0 to resume league play with a victory on Friday night.

The Lions improved to 4-3 in head-to-heads this season against their Pacific League rivals, while PL ERA leader Kikuchi improved to 8-2 on the season and 3-0 against Orix in his career. The lefty scattered five hits — all singles — struck out seven and walked three but lacked his usual sharp stuff.

“I was just pitching on emotion,” said Kikuchi, who threw a one-hit 10-0 shutout against the Chunichi Dragons in his previous start on June 12. “I felt like I needed to pitch at least as well as I did in my previous start. But today it was about winning, no matter how we went about it, even if it wasn’t a pretty win.”

Trouble found Kikuchi in the top of the second, when he yielded consecutive singles to Aarom Baldiris and Shinji Takahashi. The runners advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt, but the lefty zeroed in for his next three pitches against Mitsutaka Goto, who stared at three straight fastballs for the second out.

Hikaru Ito then flied out to end the threat.

Buffaloes starter Alessandro Maestri, making his first career start at Seibu Dome, faced his own conundrum in the bottom of the third, loading the bases with one out on a pair of singles and a hit batsman before he got Lions captain Takumi Kuriyama to hit into an inning-ending double play.

In the fourth with runners on first and second, Goto was caught taking a big lead off first for the third out and showed his disagreement with the call by erupting in an angry tirade directed at first base umpire Junichi Sato.

There was a short intermission ahead of the sixth, and it appeared to disrupt Kikuchi’s rhythm. He walked the first two batters on eight straight pitches, but he regained his poise and retired the next three batters, leaving runners stranded at the corners.

“When I walked those two batters leading off the sixth, I told myself I can’t give any runs up here,” Kikuchi said. “I kept trying to throw inside on right-handed batters and it started working in my favor.”

Maestri, whose start was his first since Seibu hammered him on April 18, kept pace with Kikuchi, digging himself out of jams, until the Lions finally got to the right-hander in the sixth.

Ryo Hayashizaki and Kuriyama opened with back-to-back singles. After Hideto Asamura’s bunt moved the runners to second and third, German hit a line drive up the middle for a 2-0 lead. Maestri (1-2) allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.

“It was a good ballgame. We tried to put pressure,” said German. “The last game we had we scored a lot of runs, so I think we’re in good shape right now. I just tried to be patient and I had guys in scoring position. I found a fastball and put a good swing (on it),” he said.

Hawks 13, Eagles 2

At Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture’s Kaiseizan Stadium, Tadashi Settsu gave up one unearned run on seven hits in six innings, Seiichi Uchikawa was 4-for-5 with two RBIs in a season-high 21-hit onslaught and Fukuoka Softbank moved into second place with its bombardment of Tohoku Rakuten.

Settsu (7-3) walked three and struck out none. Rookie Takahiro Norimoto (6-4) got tagged for four runs in five innings. Yuya Hasegawa and Kenta Imamiya rapped out seven hits and five runs between them against the Eagles, who slipped into third place.

Fighters at Marines — ppd.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Giants 4, Dragons 1

At Gunma Prefecture’s Jomo Shikishima Stadium, Shinnosuke Abe hit a pair of solo homers, Hirokazu Sawamura (4-4) went 7 2/3 scoreless innings of three-hit ball and CL leader Yomiuri defeated Chunichi to win its fifth in a row and move 16 games above .500.

Abe went deep in consecutive at-bats in the second and fourth innings, hitting his 17th and 18th homers of the year, while Jose Lopez contributed an RBI single to the Giants’ 10-hit attack.

Tigers at BayStars — ppd.

Swallows at Carp — ppd.