CHIBA — One of the favorites to win the Pacific League, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are known for their vaunted pitching staff, making the offensive display they put on in Chiba Marine Stadium all the more impressive.

News photoBrian Buchanan of the Softbank Hawks hits a grand slam in the first inning against the Chiba Lotte
Marines on Saturday at Chiba Marine Stadium. The Hawks won 8-2.

Brian Buchanan hit two home runs and Yuichi Honda added another as the Hawks (5-2) topped the Chiba Lotte Marines 8-2 Saturday afternoon.

“He definitely has some power,” Chiba Lotte manager Bobby Valentine said of Buchanan. “If you make a mistake, he can hit it over the fence.”

Fukuoka got an efficient performance out of starter Kazumi Saito. Scattering five hits, the two-time Sawamura Award winner allowed two runs and struck out six. The win extended his recent string of success against the Marines during the past two seasons.

“I bet there are a lot of teams that have a losing record against Saito,” Valentine said. ‘He’s a very good pitcher.” Although the Marines also did not have a good day at the plate in their 4-1 win the day before, scoring all four runs on three hits, Valentine was not worried.

“I have no concerns about the offense,” said the Chiba skipper after his team dropped to 2-2-2.

Relievers C.J. Nitkowski, Akihiro Yanase and Masahiko Morifuku combined to pitch three scoreless innings in relief. Morifuku gave up the only hit among the three.

The bullpen’s performance was a promising sign for the Hawks who are dealing with the loss of reliever Shintaro Yoshitake, who recorded 20 holds in 2006. Yoshitake is now a Yomiuri Giant.

The other starter, Yasutomo Kubo, dug himself an early hole and was never able to recover. After easily retiring the first two batters, the third-year hurler struggled.

“I would think that had a lot to do with his control,” Valentine said. “He didn’t have very good control of any of his pitches. It cost him. But (in the) first game of the season he was probably pressing a little. I think it could be corrected very easily.”

Things were rough from the start for Kubo and battery mate Tasuku Hashimoto. After retiring the first two batters he faced, Kubo issued walks to Hitoshi Tamura and Nobuhiko Mastunaka. Hiroki Kokubo made him pay for his mistakes with an RBI single that made the score 1-0.

Things only got worse as another walk, to Hiroshi Shibahara, loaded the bases. They were soon cleared on Buchanan’s grand slam to left field that made it 5-0.

The Marines finally broke through in the third inning on Toshiaki Aono’s leadoff triple. Aono, who missed having his second home run in as many days by just a few centimeters, finished the game 2-for-4 with a run scored. Aono came home on Daisuke Hayakawa’s RBI single to make the score 5-1. Saito kept the damage to a minimum, however, and got out of the inning holding a four-run advantage.

Kubo’s troubles continued in the fourth inning after a leadoff single by Shibahara. Once again it was a Buchanan home run, a two-run shot this time that gave the Hawks a 7-1 advantage. Kubo would retire the next three batters to get out of the inning, his last of the day. He gave up seven runs on four hits and three walks in four innings.

Hayakawa began the fifth inning by drawing walk and then advanced by stealing second. He would later score a run to trim the Fukuoka lead to 7-2. Hayakawa finished with an RBI single, drew two walks and scored a run.

Honda’s blast in the seventh gave widened the Hawks’ lead to 8-2.

Despite the outcome, Valentine stressed that his confidence in his pitchers hasn’t waned.

“I think they’ll have better outings,” Valentine said. “During a long season we’ll have good stretches and I think we’fll have some bad stretches. But I think they’re all pretty good pitchers.”

For Kubo, a long season means many opportunities to atone for a bad outing.

“You would rather not have a game like this,” Valentine said. “He’s got a lot to improve on and a lot of time to do it.”

The Marines’ Kazuya Fukuura began the game as the designated hitter, but was replaced in the lineup by Akira Otsuka due to injury. Fukuura had complained about pain around the ribs on his right side, beginning in the third inning. He told reporters he would not be going to the hospital. His status for Sunday afternoon’s game against Fukuoka is unknown.

“We’ll see,” Valentine said. “He had an injury that I think you have to be very careful with. “We’re going have to make sure it doesn’t get worse.”

BayStars beat Giants

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Pinch-hitter Katsuaki Furuki homered and lefty Yoshihiro Doi pitched eight shutout innings as the Yokohama BayStars won their first game of the regular season, beating the Yomiuri Giants 2-0 in Central League action on Saturday.

Tigers 3, Carp 2

At Kyocera Dome, Norihiro Akahoshi drew a bases-loaded walk that broke a 2-2 tie with two outs in the seventh inning and Hanshin came from behind to beat Hiroshima.

Dragons 6, Swallows 0

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi nd helped his own cause with a two-run double, leading the Dragons to their second straight win.


Buffaloes 11, Eagles 3

At Fullcast Stadium, Hirotoshi Kitagawa and Shinji Shimoyama hit three-run homers and drove in nine runs between them as Orix beat Tohoku Rakuten.

Lions 9, Fighters 3

At Sapporo Dome, Alex Cabrera led off a six-run seventh inning with his first homer of the season.

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