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Fighters pitcher Wolfe not ready to give up on season

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Brian Wolfe’s confidence is not shaken.

His Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters may be struggling and stuck in the Pacific League cellar, but Wolfe is not waving the white flag on the season just yet.

The Fullerton, California, native won’t guarantee some miraculous run to the pennant — the Fighters are 13½ games out of first place — but he does feel like the reigning PL champions are a better team than the results have shown recently.

“Our offense is good enough and our pitching staff is good enough,” Wolfe said. “We’ve just got to put them both together. When we pitch good, we don’t hit. When we hit, we don’t pitch good. We just kind of gotta level it out a little bit.”

Even if the Fighters get everything together, they’ll have a long climb to make in order to get back in contention.

“We have to keep working,” said Nippon Ham’s Michel Abreu. “Keep working and try to make a run.”

Winning a pennant may be just about out of the question, but the Fighters remain in the hunt for third place in the PL, which comes with the league’s final Climax Series spot at the end of the season.

Entering Sunday, the Fighters were 5½ games out of that spot.

“We know there’s still enough season left, and we play teams that are ahead of us every time we play,” Wolfe said. “We know how quickly things can turn around. We’re very capable of it, and we know that.”

Wolfe has had an up-and-down season on the mound himself, having missed time due to both injury and illness. He pitched well in his most recent outing, a loss to Masahiro Tanaka and the Eagles, and is 4-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 14 starts.

“All it is, is getting hot again,” Wolfe said. “We’re cold right now, we’ve been hot before, we can get hot again. It just happened that we came out of the All-Star break and we ran into some good pitching right out of the chute. There isn’t anything you can do about that.”

Go deep: It won’t be long before there aren’t enough words left to describe how dominant Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien has been at the plate this year.

Balentien was at it again on Saturday at Jingu Stadium, slugging a pair of home runs — his 36th and 37th this year — in an 8-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp.

“He hit the ball well,” said Swallows manager Junji Ogawa.

Balentien has hit two homers in a single game on six occasions this season, and went deep three times — including two shots that went out of Yokohama Stadium — against the BayStars on April 29.

On the road again: The Hanshin Tigers have packed their bags and hit the road, vacating their home ballpark, Koshien Stadium, to make way for the National High School Baseball Championship.

The Tigers faced the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien on Thursday, a 6-4 loss, and won’t play another game there until Aug. 30, as they embark on their yearly Shi no Rodo, or Road Trip of Death — so named because of past Hanshin teams’ penchant for returning to Osaka battered, bruised and in a worse position in the standings than when they left.

While the trip lost some of its teeth after the construction of Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, it’s still somewhat of a grind.

This year, Hanshin will play consecutive series in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagoya, followed by six games at Kyocera Dome, and then Yokohama, Nagoya and Tokyo before returning home to Koshien.

Out of nowhere: A long baseball season almost never fails to unearth a few surprises, and one of the most unexpected this year has been often-overlooked 32-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines left-hander Takuya Furuya.

In his most recent outing, Furuya threw eight scoreless innings in a 6-1 win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, improving to 4-1 while lowering his ERA to 2.77.

“I was just trying to pitch my game as usual when I took the mound,” Furuya said after the game.

The success he’s shown in his very brief (six starts) time with the ichi-gun team comes as a surprise for a pitcher who entered the year with a 4.54 ERA in 94 career appearances, during which he compiled a 4-1 record, over five seasons.

Furuya started this season on the farm, where he threw a no-hitter and was a 6-1 record with a 1.47 ERA in 39 innings.

He made his first ichi-gun start of 2013, and first since 2006, against the Orix Buffaloes on June 26 and was pitching a no-hitter until Tomotaka Sakaguchi tripled with two outs in the ninth inning. Furuya held on to complete the shutout.

“I’m sorry for letting everyone down,” he said sheepishly during his hero interview.

Furuya has never thrown more than 55⅓ innings in a single season — he’s at 39 so far this year — but Lotte will need him to continue his solid play as the pennant race heats up.

“We still have games left to play,” Furuya said, “so I’ll try to keep winning.”