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Otani outshines pitching peer Fujinami

Kyodo

Hokkaido Nippon Ham right-hander Shohei Otani outpitched fellow second-year man Shintaro Fujinami as the Fighters defeated the Hanshin Tigers 6-5 in a preseason game on Saturday.

Otani changed speeds effectively to hold Hanshin to a run on two hits over five innings at Koshien Stadium to make a case for inclusion in the Fighters’ starting rotation. Both pitchers were taken in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft and were rookie sensations last season.

The two had faced each other once before at Koshien as high school seniors in the 2012 National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament. In that game, Fujinami and Osaka Toin beat Otani’s Hanamaki Higashi 9-2.

“My only memory had been of losing,” Otani said of his previous experience at the fabled ballpark. “I have now managed one good memory.”

Fujinami also went five innings in the rematch, but allowed five runs on nine hits. The Fighters also stole three bases while he was on the mound.

“My pitching was indecisive and not very good,” said Fujinami, who hit 153 kph on his fastball during the first two innings, when he notched four of his six strikeouts.

Eight of the Fighters’ nine hits off him were by left-handed hitters, who gave Fujinami trouble last season.

“He has issues that need to be solved,” Hanshin manager Yutaka Wada said.

Otani, who has split his time as a pro playing right field and pitching, threw his fastest pitch in the first inning, when he got Tigers star Takashi Toritani swinging at a 156-kph fastball for strike three.

But it wasn’t all about speed for Otani. He employed two different curves and was able to keep his slider low, enabling him to get ahead in counts with his breaking stuff — something he’s been working on.

Nippon Ham manager Hideki Kuriyama, who has yet to reveal his pitching rotation for the start of the season, said, “It appears he (Otani) has really put things together.”

Otani, who went 3-0 in 13 games in his rookie season, suggested he still had some catching up to do to match Fujinami, who was 10-6 last season.

“Fujinami has already produced results,” Otani said. “My position is that of a challenger.”