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Sugiura confident Swallows can bounce back

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Staff Writer

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows are down, but pitcher Toshihiro Sugiura doesn’t think it’s time to count the Central League champions out just yet.

Yakult returned home Monday in a 0-2 hole against the powerful Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Japan Series. On the bright side, the Swallows will play at least the next two games, and a third if they can win once, at home, where they hope the friendly confines of Jingu Stadium can help spark a turnaround.

A victory in Game 3 on Tuesday would be a good place to start.

“Well, of course, we got beaten twice down there (in Fukuoka), so obviously we’ve got to win,” Sugiura said Monday. “If we’re able to perform how we normally do here at Jingu, we are going to get some momentum. So we should just stick to playing the way we normally play.”

Both teams traveled to Tokyo on Monday and got in practice sessions.

The Swallows arrived at Jingu looking to right the ship at the plate and on the mound. The Birds have a potent offense, but it was silenced by the Hawks’ pitchers in Fukuoka. Yakult managed just two runs and seven hits in Games 1 and 2 combined.

The Hawks didn’t have any such troubles, racking up 15 hits in the opener and eight more on Sunday night, scoring four runs in each contest. They’ve been especially potent at the bottom of the lineup with the players (including pinch hitters) who’ve batted in the 7-9 spots, combining to go 8-for-20 so far.

“They’ve got a lot of hitters who swing hard,” Sugiura said. “When you throw hittable pitches, they get their bats on them well, that’s my impression.”

Slowing down the Softbank attack, which led Japan with 651 runs scored during the regular season, will be of utmost importance for Yakult going forward.

Softbank’s Nobuhiro Matsuda, Lee Dae-ho and Akira Nakamura already have home runs in the series and there is more firepower laying in wait in the Softbank lineup.

“The core of their lineup, especially Matsuda and Lee, are the ones who drive in runs,” Sugiura said. “Although they have other hitters who can hit home runs, basically you’ve really got to be careful with the core hitters.”

Sugiura, a second-year player who made seven ichi-gun appearances and was the starter (and winner) of the Climax Series finale, should get his shot at the potent Softbank lineup at some point during the series.

“I’ve got to pitch my own game,” the 23-year old said. “Besides that, I don’t know what’s going to happen until I actually take the mound. I don’t have any secret plans or anything.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report