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Hanshin pitcher Fujikawa growing into new role

Kyodo

Kyuji Fujikawa, whose 220 saves are fifth most in Nippon Professional Baseball history, threw five hitless innings on Sunday for the Hanshin Tigers.

The 35-year-old right-hander is returning to NPB after three years and trying to make the transition to starter. In his second preseason game, Fujikawa allowed one walk and struck out one in a 4-0 preseason win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at Koshien Stadium.

“I felt good throwing. I think this was a good preparation for the season,” said Fujikawa, who a week earlier escaped a first-inning jam to hold the Yomiuri Giants to a run in four innings.

Although Fujikawa continued to rely heavily on the fastball-forkball combination he thrived on as a closer, he mixed in some curves and cutters in an efficient 55-pitch effort.

“If you take a long-term view, it’s good to have balance, throw a variety of pitches and get batters to put the ball in play. Going forward, I think that is going to be essential,” said Fujikawa, whose previous incarnation was all about swings and misses.

Fujikawa moved to the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent in 2013, but was limited to just 29 big league games in three seasons. He began the 2015 season with the Texas Rangers on a minor league deal and pitched in two games for them. He finished last year pitching in Japan’s independent Shikoku Island League.