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Giants hurler Sugano aims for winning season

by

Staff Writer

Tomoyuki Sugano returned to Japan recently after spending several days training in Hawaii. He told reporters at Narita Airport that his workouts yielded great results and allowed that “my condition is the best it’s been in three years.”

The Giants fell short of winning the pennant and fans will be hoping for a big year out of their ace pitcher to help reclaim it. Sugano himself is likely hoping to erase the taste of the first losing season of his three-year career.

Former Giants pitcher Yukinaga Maeda said, in an article about Sugano for Tokyo Sports, that an ace pitcher should win at least 15 games — coincidentally the minimum number of victories listed as one of the selection criteria for the Sawamura Award, which a Yomiuri pitcher hasn’t won since Koji Uehara earned his second in 2002.

Sugano hasn’t cracked the 15-win barrier yet — no Giants hurler has since Tetsuya Utsumi won 18 games in 2011 — but it’s a bit unfair to judge his credentials on wins alone.

Sugano lost more games than he won in 2015. At 10-11, he lost exactly as many games last year as he did in his first two seasons combined. But wins and losses can be misleading, if for no other reason than we have more information now. While Sugano “earned” some of those losses, other were the result of a Giants team that sputtered through a down year. Aside from his win-loss record, Sugano’s numbers rivaled, if not bettered those he put up in 2014, when he was the CL MVP.

Sugano’s 1.91 ERA was the second best in Japan in 2015, and he also finished with a 2.80 fielding independent pitching average. His average game score (a measure of how effective a pitcher was during a start) for the season was 62.6 which, according to Sports Nippon, was the fifth-best in Japan — Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Shohei Otani scored the highest at 68.7. Sugano was also one of four CL pitchers with a quality start percentage of 80 percent or higher.

Sugano had a 2-5 record and 2.71 ERA over his final eight starts of the year, in August and September, when the Kyojin were fighting the Hanshin Tigers and Tokyo Yakult Swallows, the eventual pennant winners, for CL supremacy. He was 1-2 in four starts in September, despite just five earned runs allowed over his final 26 innings of the season.

Sugano wasn’t always at his best, and he had inopportune hiccups, but he largely did his part. Winning decisions is hard, and not solely in a pitcher’s hands. Sugano will undoubtedly be looking to do it a little more often in 2016, but if he does, it’ll be a mistake to call it a comeback.

Feeling the blues: Kenta Maeda is getting ready for his move to MLB by working out with a few of his now-former Carp teammates at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima. This past week he did some throwing exercises and played catch with an MLB ball.

“I want to enter camp with my condition at 100 percent,” Maeda told Kyodo News.

It was noted that Maeda’s workout outfit was predominately blue, perhaps a nod to his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Carp pitcher Daichi Osera was less subtle, showing his support with a workout shirt with a large Dodgers logo emblazoned across the front. It was a similar scene to the one in Sendai in January of 2014, when newly minted New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka returned to workout at Rakuten’s facilities, with the Eagles he trained with proudly wearing Yankees hats.