NAGO, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) Nippon Ham Fighters rookie right-hander Yuki Saito retired all three batters he faced in one inning of work against the Samsung Lions of South Korea in his first exhibition appearance Sunday.

The wildly popular 22-year-old, taking the mound in the fourth inning as the Fighters’ second pitcher, struck out the first batter swinging and retired the next two on ground balls in front of 5,200 spectators at Nago Stadium in Okinawa Prefecture.

The fastest pitch of his 14-pitch outing was 139 kilometers per hour.

“I didn’t get nervous,” Saito said. “It’s so great to have pro baseball players out there backing me up. That made me feel that I’ve finally become a pro.”

The Fighters’ No. 1 pick out from Waseda University in the fall 2010 draft has been the focus of media attention among baseball players since the start of spring training two weeks ago.

Saito became a national hero in August 2006 when he led Waseda Jitsugyo to the national high school championship title.

He opted to play college baseball rather than turn pro.

His rival Masahiro Tanaka, who lost to Saito in the high school championship final, joined the Rakuten Eagles as their top 2006 draft pick and won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007 on his way to becoming an established star pitcher in Japan.

Saito became only the sixth pitcher in Japanese college baseball history to amass 30 wins and 300 strikeouts over four years in the Tokyo Big Six League.

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