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Hall of Fame pitcher Johnson impressed by Otani, Maeda

by

Staff Writer

Randy Johnson won 303 games, five Cy Young Awards, struck out 4,875 batters (second all time) and was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Needless to say, the Big Unit knows his way around a mound.

On Tuesday night in Chiba, Johnson, who is in Japan with other Arizona Diamondbacks representatives as part of the team’s goodwill trip, got a look at the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Shohei Otani. The Fighters’ young right-hander gave his famous spectator a show, striking out 12 in a six-hit shutout against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Johnson seemed to like what he saw.

“It looks like he’s doing pretty good for himself right now,” Johnson told The Japan Times on Thursday. “I would just (say) continue to work hard and stay focused at what you’re trying to get done,” he added when asked what advice he might have for the 21-year old.

The Diamondbacks group, which also includes 2001 World Series hero Luis Gonzalez, president Derrick Hall and senior vice president of communications Josh Rawitch, also saw Carp ace Kenta Maeda up close and personal during a stop in Hiroshima last week. Maeda struck out seven and walked none over seven innings of one-run ball against the Yokohama BayStars that day.

“Very good athlete, fielded his position, worked both sides of the plate,” Johnson said of Maeda. “I’m assuming, despite him pitching really well, if I was to talk to him, he’d probably say that that was not his best game. I would believe him, only because his control was off a little bit. But he had a sequence of pitches and knew how to use them. Despite maybe not having his best stuff, he still gave up one run in, I think, six or seven innings. So I was very impressed.”

Miles ahead: There might not be a pitcher in Japan hotter than the Yomiuri Giants’ Miles Mikolas is right now. The right-hander added to his scintillating run on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome, allowing just one hit and an unearned run over the distance in an 8-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers.

Mikolas (10-3) is in his first season in Japan and currently leads NPB with a 1.83 ERA. Through Wednesday’s games he was tied with the Tigers’ Shintaro Fujinami for the most wins in the Central League.

Mikolas has won eight straight decisions since his last loss June 12, and is the third foreign pitcher in Giants history to win 10 games during his first NPB season, joining past Kyojin Bill Gullickson, who was 14-9 in 1988, and Balvino Galvez, who finished 16-6 in 1996.

“I’m surprised, but to be included in that group is a great honor,” Mikolas said. “Poreda will be next,” he added with a smile, putting the pressure on teammate Aaron Poreda, who is 7-5.

Mikolas has gotten stronger as the year has gone on. He lost his first two decisions and was 0-2 with a 4.03 ERA on May 21.

Something has clicked since then, and Mikolas has gone 10-1 with a 1.11 ERA over his last 12 starts. He’s thrown two shutouts over that span and gone the distance on four occasions, including in each of last two starts.

Mikolas has taken in a lot of things since arriving in Japan and made the adjustments he’s felt put him in the best position to succeed. He’s also been able to glean information from watching his teammates pitch.

“Just watching the way that they pitch, and the guys that are successful, obviously I’ve watched (Tomoyuki) Sugano pitch a lot and and kind of watched what he does,” Mikolas said. “Sometimes it’s a little more effective to pitch guys backwards here at certain times. There’s a little bit of a learning curve, but I think I was also just learning about myself, first full season as a starter, learning how I like to pitch and how I like to make adjustments from batter to batter and inning to inning.”

Walk this way: Yomiuri Giants first baseman Shinnosuke Abe knows how to get on base against the Hanshin Tigers. Through Wednesday, Abe had faced the Tigers 16 times this season, and Hanshin pitchers have managed to walk him 15 times so far. No other team has walked Abe as often this year. Abe has more walks than hits (15) in his games against the Tigers, and has only struck out twice.