Baseball isn’t always fair, and things don’t always play out the way they should on the diamond. The game can be downright cruel at times really.
Jason Standridge knows this all too well, and he still feels blessed to play the game. He’s had his share of tough breaks this season, but you’d never tell just by speaking with him.
His head is held high, the cheerful disposition is intact, and the 34-year-old right-hander is eager to help the Hanshin Tigers finish off a successful season.
Standridge has been among NPB’s most reliable arms so far, even if it isn’t reflected in his 6-7 record. He’s a game under .500 despite a 2.21 ERA that’s the best in the Central League and fifth-lowest in Japan, a 1.19 WHIP, and a fielding independent pitching average of 2.87 over 110 innings.
He’s pitched well, but a lack of run support at times has saddled him with a few hard-luck losses.
“That’s baseball,” Standridge said. “As pitchers, we always joke around saying, ‘to get wins, you gotta pitch on the right day.’ Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you pitch. If you go seven and give up none, and he goes seven and gives up none, well, you’re not getting a win. It’s just one of those things.”
The Trussville, Alabama, native said it’s not something he spends much time thinking about.
“It’s not a big deal,” he added. “It can be frustrating at times, because you feel like you’re pitching good enough to win, but it’s just the nature of the game. There are going to be times I go out there and get my rear end knocked around, and they score a lot of runs, and I spit the hook and don’t get the loss. It is what it is. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s not lack of effort (from the Tigers), I promise you that. They’re going out there and trying to score runs just like any day. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
In his latest outing, on Friday, Standridge threw a shutout against the first-place Yomiuri Giants, nursing a 1-0 lead for eight innings before Hanshin tacked on three runs in the top of the ninth.
“He’s done a tremendous job,” Tigers outfielder Matt Murton said following that game. “I think his numbers show that. The nice thing is, we were able to get a few runs. He’s come up on the tough end a few times this year, at least a few times. So it’s nice to get him a win. He made that possible by throwing shutout baseball in Tokyo Dome.”
Standridge is currently in his fourth season with the Tigers and is 33-31 with a 2.85 ERA in 537½ innings with the CL club.
He’ll play a large role over the rest of the year, as the Tigers try to overtake the Giants and win the CL pennant. Hanshin trailed Yomiuri by 7½ games — and led the Chunichi Dragons and Hiroshima Carp, who are tied for third by nine — entering Wednesday’s matchups.
Standridge is aware of how important the team’s remaining games will be, but doesn’t want to let that affect his play.
“As a pitcher, I’m not going to put any more pressure on myself,” he said. “I love to have the ball at times my team needs me. In pressure situations, in ‘hey, we gotta win tonight,’ (situations). I love that competitiveness. But to put more pressure on myself, I think I’d be doing myself an injustice. I’d be trying to do more than what I’m capable of doing.”
Standridge is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the Hanshin pitching staff, which has NPB’s second-best team ERA at 3.06. Randy Messenger is 10-5 with an 3.16 ERA on the year, while Atsushi Nomi is 8-6, 2.79. Rookie Shintaro Fujinami (7-4, 2.84) is also pulling his weight, as are many others.
“We go out there to win,” Standridge said. “With the addition of Shintaro . . . I think he’s done a great job, I think he’s going to do well. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself, which I love. He’s been great for us, and obviously Randy has done a great job for us this year. Nomi is Nomi. I would say he’s our ace pitcher. I feel like he’s just a consistent guy who goes out and gives you quality innings. He’s going to give you quality start after quality start after quality start. He’s our guy.”
It’s also helped that Hanshin is getting more production at the plate this season.
“Definitely the offense has been more of the key this year,” Standridge said. “Our pitching was really good last year, and defensively we were really good, and defensively we’re really good this year. We just happened to have a rough year at the plate last year.”
There is still a long way to go in 2013, and Standridge says it’s imperative the Tigers stay focused.
“Obviously when you’re in a situation where your team has to win, as a player you know that,” he said. “But you can’t put more pressure on yourself, because it causes you to get out of your element. I know it does for me. Maybe I try to start striking everybody out instead of letting my team play behind me. Just like hitters, they start trying to do too much. You start trying to hit a three-run home run with nobody on base, and you’re like, ‘dude, just get on base.’ We all do it as players, and it’s easy to get caught up in that.
“The teams that do well, are the teams that, under the pressure, and under the stressful moments, can relax and just go out there and play. I think we have a team that’s capable of doing that.”