Kazumi Saito went the distance, scattering six hits and notching eight strikeouts, as the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks spoiled Nippon Ham manager Trey Hillman’s home debut with a 5-1 win Friday night before a crowd of 24,000 at Tokyo Dome.
Kenji Jojima paced the Hawks’ 12-hit attack with three hits, including a 130-meter solo home run into the upper-deck bleachers in left field.
Nippon Ham starter Carlos Mirabal (1-1), suffered the loss after allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings.
It was the New Jersey native’s first outing since Opening Day, when he held the Seibu Lions to six hits in 7 2/3 scoreless innings at Seibu Dome.
“Overall, it obviously wasn’t the kind of performance we were looking for in our opening game at home,” Hillman told a scrum of reporters after the game.
“But I didn’t think we played poorly either. We hit some balls well and we had a couple of loud outs. Carlos pitched well, but he wasn’t as commanding with his pitches as he was in his last start.”
Daiei outfielder Arihito Muramatsu opened the scoring for the Hawks with an RBI double in the fifth inning and came home on shortstop Munenori Kawasaki’s triple up the left field foul line.
“Both of the pitchers were doing a great job up to that point, so I thought it was really important for us to score first,” Muramatsu said.
Kawasaki added: “I didn’t hit the ball that well, but it just found the right place, so I was pretty happy we could get that second run.”
Kawasaki’s triple, which flew down the line just out of reach of first baseman D.T. Cromer, prompted some pointed questions from reporters after the game.
When asked why Cromer was playing his position a step closer to second base than usual, Hillman responded: “This is a game of percentages and there are more balls that go between the first- and second-basemen for hits than there are hits down the foul lines.”
The Hawks added another run on Bryant Nelson’s sacrifice fly in the sixth before Michihiro Ogasawara put the Fighters on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning with a home run that dropped into the sixth row of the center field bleachers.
Jojima’s solo shot in the eighth inning put the Hawks up 4-1 and Nelson followed up with his second sacrifice fly of the night to round out the scoring.
“Saito did a good job of keeping us off balance with that slow breaking curve,” Hillman said. “We hit a few balls hard right back at him, but sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat. He pitched a really good game.
“We’ve got another 130 games to go and we’ll be putting our best lineup on the field tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do.”
Hillman, who signed a two-year contract to manage the Fighters last November after the team completed its second straight losing season, praised Kokichi Akune after the second baseman got a hit and a walk in three plate appearances.
“It’s encouraging to see our No. 9 batter get on base with a walk,” Hillman said. “We’re concentrating on our on-base percentage and he did a good job.”
Ogasawara provided most of the Fighters’ offense, finishing the game with three hits, including two doubles and his 135-meter homer.
“The main thing you ask hitters to do is go out there and swing and make good contact,” Hillman said when asked about Ogasawara. “And that’s what he did.”
Buffaloes 5, Lions 1
At Seibu Dome, Tuffy Rhodes hit a two-run double in the seventh inning to turn the game around and Norihiro Nakamura followed with a two-run homer as Kintetsu came from behind to beat the Lions.
Jeremy Powell (2-0) held his opponents to a run and five hits while striking out five in seven innings of work for the win. Seibu starter Daisuke Matsuzaka left the mound after two innings with a pain in his right leg and was relieved by Shuichiro Osada.
Asakura does it all
Nagoya (Kyodo) Kenta Asakura stole the limelight on the mound and at the plate Friday as he pitched a complete game and hit his career first home run in the Chunichi Dragon’s 11-3 victory over the Yokohama BayStars, handing the visitors their fifth straight loss.
Asakura (1-1) allowed nine hits to the 40 batters he faced and connected for a two-run homer off Yokohama starter Yuji Yoshimi (0-2) to cap a five-run outburst in the third inning at Nagoya Dome as Chunichi took a 9-0 lead through the fourth and never looked back.
Alex Ochoa hit his second homer of the season — a two-run drive — into the fifth floor stands in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to seven games.
Tigers 3, Swallows 2
At Osaka Dome, Hideki Irabu (2-0) limited the damage to a sole run over eight innings and walked none in his 110-pitch outing as Hanshin edged Yakult to remain the Central League co-leaders along with Chunichi with a 5-2 record.
Akihiro Yano drove in two runs on a single to center off Masanori Ishikawa (0-2) in the sixth inning in support of the former Texas Rangers right-hander.
Ishida to join majors
FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Japanese catcher Masahiro Ishida, a 22-year-old former Fukuoka University player, agreed to terms with the Florida Marlins and is set to sign a minor-league deal with the National League club, baseball sources said Friday.
Ishida, known for his power-hitting and catching mechanics, turned down an offer to play for the corporate leagues and is aiming to become the first Japanese catcher to play in the major leagues.
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