Tomohiro Nioka swung the big bat for Yomiuri, going 4-for-5 with two home runs, while lefty Hisanori Takahashi tossed seven solid innings as the Giants downed the Central League front-running Hanshin Tigers 6-2 at Koshien Stadium on Friday.

The Giants are now in second place, 8 1/2 games behind the Tigers.

With one out in the first, Nioka slammed a solo homer into the left-center bleachers to put the Giants up 1-0.

In the fifth inning, Nioka belted another solo dinger — his 15th home run of the year — to give Yomiuri a 2-0 lead.

The Giants added a run in the following inning with Akira Eto’s homer into the center-field bleachers.

All homers were off Hanshin starter Hideki Irabu (7-2), who was tagged for three runs on nine hits over six innings. He struck out eight and walked one.

Giants starter Takahashi (4-4) scattered five hits and held the Tigers to two runs for the win.

“(Irabu) is the No. 1 pitcher in the league and so I just tried my best to hang in there and waited for my teammates to back me up,” Takahashi said. “I focused on every pitch and tried to hold down the offense and give up the least runs possible.”

The Tigers cut Yomiuri’s lead to one run in the seventh with a two-run dinger by Kentaro Sekimoto off Takahashi, but in the eighth inning Eto homered in his second straight at-bat, whacking a two-run dinger off Tigers reliever Shinji Taninaka to widen the lead.

Dragons 9, BayStars 3

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami went 3-for-4 and hit a two-run dinger in the first inning off Domingo Guzman (4-6) in the first inning as Chunichi beat Yokohama at Yokohama Stadium, handing the BayStars their fifth straight loss.

Masafumi Hirai (2-2) allowed one run on four hits over five solid innings for his first win in five years.


Lions 4, Marines 2

Rookie Taketoshi Goto pinch-hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning off Lotte reliever Hiroyuki Kobayashi (2-4) as Seibu edged the Marines at Chiba Marine Stadium.

Mitsutaka Goto (3-5) held Lotte to one run on eight hits over 7 2/3 innings and two relievers held the Marines hitless the rest of the way.

Closer Kiyoshi Toyoda worked a perfect ninth and earned his 14th save as Lotte’s win streak came to a halt at six.

BlueWave 12, Fighters 4

Scott Sheldon and Kazuhiko Shiotani had four hits each to lead Orix’s 18-hit barrage as the BlueWave smoked Nippon Ham at Tokyo Dome, sending the Fighters to their fourth straight loss.

Lefty starter Koo Dae Sung (2-4) gave up three runs on seven hits over five innings and picked up his first win since April 28.

Carlos Mirabal (7-5) was tagged with the loss, allowing eight earned runs on 11 hits — including homers to Takashi Miwa and Roosevelt Brown, over three-plus innings in taking the loss.

Foreign draft revised

Japanese baseball executives determined over a meeting on Friday that players with foreign nationalities who turn pro through the annual amateur draft and clear certain qualifications may be given the same rights as Japanese players.

Under the current system, non-Japanese high school students were required to reside in Japan for more than five years and receive education here for at least three years in order to be considered “Japanese” players after being drafted by professional teams.

However, the new rule will allow foreign-born players to receive the same privileges as Japanese players and disassociate them from restrictions in the 25-man roster if they reside in Japan for a certain number of years, probably four, before and after turning pro. The duration is yet to be agreed upon.

If the four-year standard takes effect, Norberto Semanaka, who has Brazilian citizenship but has lived in Japan for three years in high school before joining the Chunichi Dragons this season, will be treated as a Japanese player beginning next season.

Hawks get Zuleta

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Daiei Hawks said Friday they have officially signed Triple-A Pawtucket infielder Julio Zuleta and are expecting him in Japan in a few days, but did not disclose information about his contract.

The 28-year-old Zuleta is from Panama and played for the Chicago Cubs in 2000 and 2001, hitting .247 with 36 RBIs and nine homers in 79 major league games. He was assigned to the minor league camp of the Boston Red Sox on March 22.

Meanwhile, Hawks right-hander Matt Skrmetta was diagnosed with inflamed muscles in his right shoulder and was removed from the active roster on Friday, baseball sources said.

According to Daiei manager Sadaharu Oh, Skrmetta, who is 1-1 with 11 saves in 18 mound appearances this season, underwent medical tests at a Fukuoka hospital on Thursday and was told by doctors he should refrain from pitching for two to three weeks.

Also for Daiei, 23-year-old catcher Takashi Sasagawa made his comeback to the Pacific League club after playing in Taiwan earlier this season.

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