TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – Orix lefty Kei Igawa turned back the clock on Saturday, looking like the Sawamura Award winner of 10 years ago as he struck out nine in 5-1/3 innings in the Buffaloes’ 2-0 victory over the Seibu Lions.
Igawa (2-1) had superb command of his once-deadly changeup to keep the Lions hitters guessing before leaving due to an issue with his pitching hand in the sixth inning. The former Hanshin Tigers ace and New York Yankee allowed four singles and hit a batter before a crowd of 24,895 at Seibu Dome in Saitama Prefecture.
“I do poorly in day games, so I wanted to give it my utmost,” said the 33-year-old, who damaged the nail on the index finger of his pitching hand. “I don’t throw hard, but I was on target with my slow stuff. I wanted to stay out of bad counts and dictate the pace. To do that, I wanted to get a lot of first-pitch strikes.”
“I want to be able to repeat this kind of pitching so I can contribute more, but staying consistent at this level is difficult.”
The Buffaloes busted out in front in the second on two singles and a Seibu error. Lee Dae-ho reached on a leadoff infield single and lumbered to second when second baseman Ryo Hayashizaki’s throw to first went awry. With two outs and Lee on third, Toshiya Tsuji singled home the opening run.
Seibu starter Ken Togame pitched out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the third inning, but surrendered his second run of the game in the top of the seventh.
Yoshio Itoi, who had stranded a runner at third when he lined out to end the fifth inning, plated Hikaru Ito from second with two outs in the top of the seventh with his second double of the game. It was Itoi’s league-leading 18th double of the season.
“I prefer home runs to doubles,” said Itoi, who drove in his first run this month. “Still, I guess it’s good to be leading the league in something.”
Togame (5-4) allowed two runs — one earned — on nine hits and two walks. He struck out six.
A quartet from the Buffaloes’ bullpen continued Igawa’s solid work, allowing just two hits over the final 3 2/3 innings, while striking out six. Yoshihisa Hirano picked up his 16th save. The Lions’ lineup was stymied by 15 strikeouts.
“The relievers did a great job to get Igawa the win,” Orix skipper Hiroshi Moriwaki said. “That gave this extra meaning.”
“He was Igawa-like today. In his previous game and the one before that, he was lacking something. I think he’ll be pitching like his old self before long.”
Fighters 4, Marines 2
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Hokkaido Nippon Ham overcame an early exit by star southpaw Mitsuo Yoshikawa to defeat PL leader Chiba Lotte behind some scrappy pitching from the bullpen and a solid performance from leadoff man Yang Dai-kang.
Yang doubled, walked and homered and scored three of the Fighters’ runs off Marines ace Yoshihisa Naruse (6-3). Yoshikawa left with leg trouble with two on and one out in the third, but right-hander Yohei Kagiya (2-1) denied the hosts for 3 2/3 innings as the Fighters won five straight for the first time this season.
Hawks 8, Eagles 2
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Shota Oba (1-2) allowed two runs in five innings to earn his first win of the season and Fukuoka Softbank turned a close game with Tohoku Rakuten into a late-inning rout.
Hawks leadoff man Akira Nakamura singled in a run in the fifth off Kenji Tomura (2-1) to break a 1-1 tie and Yuichi Honda added an RBI double. Former New York Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi protected a 3-2 lead in the sixth by striking out the heart of the Eagles order before five late runs put the game out of reach.
Swallows 3, Carp 0
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Tokyo Yakult rookie Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa (7-2), held Hiroshima to five hits in his first career shutout, and Wladimir Balentien supplied the firepower with his 22nd home run, a three-run shot off right-hander Kan Otake (5-4).
Ogawa, who has strived to pattern his pitching after major league legend Nolan Ryan, was the Swallows’ second draft pick last season. He struck out five batters and walked one and didn’t allow a runner to reach third base.
The Carp have lost four in a row.
Dragons 2, Giants 0
At Tokyo Dome, Matt Clark went 2-for-2 with a solo home run and defused an eighth-inning jam with a good play at first to start an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded as Chunichi snapped league-leading Yomiuri’s five-game winning streak.
Kazuhiro Wada also homered in the Dragons’ two-run fourth off Giants starter Toshiya Sugiuchi (5-4). Chunichi’s Yudai Ono (3-5) scattered seven hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings while striking out five.
BayStars 5, Tigers 3
At Yokohama Stadium, Takehiro Ishikawa singled and scored the tying run in the first inning and knocked in two runs in the fourth with a triple, helping lift Yokohama to a come-from-behind victory over Hanshin.
Atori Ota (1-0) threw 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for his first career win. Jorge Sosa survived a two-out double in the ninth inning by Tigers captain Takashi Toritani to earn his fourth save.
Brazell back with Marines
The Chiba Lotte Marines announced Saturday that they have signed first baseman Craig Brazell, who has hit 118 home runs in five seasons in Japan.
The left-handed hitter has agreed to a one-year deal worth ¥15 million with additional performance-based incentives.
The Marines had been rumored to be pursuing both Alex Ramirez of the Yokohama BayStars and former major league star Manny Ramirez, who was released by his club in Taiwan on Wednesday.
Brazell, who had been playing independent league ball in the United States after being released by the Hanshin Tigers last autumn, has a career .269 average with 365 RBIs in Japan.
“He has a track record in Japan, and he is able to go for the long ball,” Marines skipper Tsutomu Ito said. “He’s attractive because of his ability to change a game with one swing.”
This is the second time Brazell has been recalled from independent league ball.
In 2008, he hit 27 homers for the Seibu Lions, but was injured at the end of the season, when he was hit in the head by a pitch and released. The Tigers signed him from an independent league team in 2009 and he revived his career with Hanshin.