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Hawks southpaw Otonari gains confidence thanks to postseason success

by

Staff Writer

Kenji Otonari was the hero for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks during the Climax Series and the Pacific League champions are turning to the left-hander again as the Japan Series moves inside Yafuoku Dome for the next three nights.

The Hawks evened the series at 1-1 with a 2-1 victory over the Hanshin Tigers on Sunday night at Koshien Stadium and practiced for about two hours after returning home Monday afternoon.

Otonari is slated to get the start against Shintaro Fujinami, the Tigers’ second-year right hander, in Game 3 on Tuesday.

Otonari came up big for Softbank during the PL Climax Series Final Stage, pitching 14 2/3 innings of two-run ball against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Otonari won the first game of that series and was also the winner in the decisive sixth game.

“I had good games and that gave me confidence,” Otonari said on Monday. “Anyhow, I haven’t been able to do anything yet (in the Japan Series), and I feel like I want to contribute.”

Fujinami is coming off a solid postseason performance as well.

The young fireballer got the start in Game 1 of the final stage in the Central League Climax Series and struck out six over seven innings while allowing just a single run in a win over the Yomiuri Giants.

Softbank hasn’t seen much of Fujinami. He didn’t face the Hawks this season, and only pitched against them once — striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings — last year as a rookie.

“We’re watching video,” said Yasuo Fujii, one of Softbank’s hitting coaches. “(The players) will also be able to see more tomorrow.”

Otonari didn’t pitch against the Tigers during the interleague campaign either, but they probably have at least some idea of what to expect from the eight-year veteran.

The change in scenery to a PL park means both pitchers will have to contend with the designated hitter rule being in effect for Games 3, 4 and 5. There was no DH for the first two games of the series.

The Tigers chose to stay behind in Kansai for a few hours longer than the Hawks, and had a pitchers-only practice session scheduled early Monday morning, with no plans to work out in Fukuoka.

Hanshin took the first game of the series with a 6-2 victory with three RBIs from Mauro Gomez, two from Matt Murton, and one from Kosuke Fukudome helping to support a solid effort by pitcher Randy Messenger.

Softbank survived in a tight contest in Game 2. Pitcher Shota Takeda retired the first 17 batters he faced, and an RBI double from Seiichi Uchikawa and towering solo homer by Lee Dae-ho proved to be all the run support Takeda would get or need.

Game 3 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Yafuoku Dome.