Daiei Hawks catcher Kenji Jojima had an outstanding season at the plate but it’s the defensive numbers he’s most proud of.
With rookies Tsuyoshi Wada and Nagisa Arakaki,the Pacific League champion Hawks have one of the youngest pitching staffs in the league. They also have the lowest ERA of 3.94 and you can credit the veteran catcher for much of the team’s stinginess this season.
The 28-year-old Jojima, nicknamed Joe, was also the best in the league at gunning down potential base stealers. Out of 83 attempts this season he threw out a total of 35 runners for a success rate of 42 percent.
“The offensive numbers were good,” Jojima told Weekly Baseball recently. “But its the defensive numbers that I’m most satisfied with. To have the lowest ERA and the best numbers against steals is something I take a lot of pride in.”
Jojima, playing in his ninth season, hopes to put up some equally impressive numbers when the Japan Series between his Hawks and the Central League champion Hanshin Tigers begins on Saturday at Fukuoka Dome.
The biggest challenge he will face in the Japan Series will be keeping Hanshin speedster Norihiro Akahoshi in check. Akahoshi had a league-high 61 steals in the regular season.
Another aspect of the season that Jojima takes pride in is that he played in every inning of all 140 games for Sadaharu Oh’s team.
“Because of our young staff we have, I considered playing in every inning of every game as part of what we needed to do to win the Pacific League,” added Jojima. “In that sense, I was glad I was able to play in every game.”
It was the first time in 40 years that a catcher in Japanese professional baseball appeared in every inning of every game. The last to do so was Katsuya Nomura in 1963.
In a tribute to his huge contribution to the team, Daiei players threw the popular catcher in the air when the team clinched the Pacific League pennant on Sept. 30 at Chiba Marine Stadium. It’s an honor that is usually reserved for managers only.
At the plate, Jojima put up some MVP-like numbers with a .330 batting average, a team-high 182 hits, 34 homers and 119 RBIs. Only infielder Nobuhiko Matsunaka had more RBIs with 123.
While many of the Hawks — Jojima and Matsunaka included — have Japan Series experience, Jojima said it will be a challenge to keep the young pitchers focused.
Wada, who went 14-5 with a 3.38 ERA and 195 strikeouts, is expected to start Game 3 at Koshien Stadium.
“Koshien has a unique atmosphere,” said Jojima. “It will be a great experience for them to pitch in a situation like that.”
Kazumi Saito, who won 20 games, is expected to start the opener on Saturday while Toshiya Sugiuchi has been mentioned as the Game 2 starter. Former New York Yankees pitcher Brandon Knight could get the start in Game 4.
The Hawks won the Japan Series in 1999, beating the Chunichi Dragons in five games. They went back to Japan’s version of the fall classic in 2000 but lost to the Yomiuri Giants in six games.
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